United open gap as Torres shows best and worst

MANCHESTER UTD (3) vs CHELSEA (1)

CHELSEA manager Andre Villas-Boas defended embattled striker Fernando Torres after his missed open goal helped condemn them to defeat at rivals and early-season pace-setters Manchester United.

Torres squandered a golden chance to reduce the deficit to just one goal in the second half when he sprung the offside trap and rounded United goalkeeper David de Gea to leave the net at his mercy.

But the Spaniard, who had earlier thrown Chelsea a lifeline with only his second goal in 24 Blues appearances, somehow contrived to miss the target with his weaker left foot and handed United a huge let-off.

The home side, who moved two points clear at the top of the Premier League, could afford to have Wayne Rooney miss a penalty, having earned a three-goal first-half cushion through Chris Smalling, Nani and Rooney.

Villas-Boas said of Torres’ horror miss: “You have an example of Rooney missing a penalty too, which is basically the same. The worst things happen to the best strikers in the world and today it happened to both of them.”

Three down at half-time was certainly harsh on Chelsea, who saw Ramires waste a glorious opportunity before the break and were entitled to claim offside for Smalling’s opener.

Villas-Boas added: “It was a strange game, very, very open and a lot of opportunities for both teams. Coming back from 3-0 down is always difficult and we had to take risks without exposing ourselves. The second-half recovery was very good and we had a couple of chances to even the score. The scoreline is crazy.”

Smalling struck first on eight minutes when he escaped Frank Lampard to head Ashley Young’s free-kick past Petr Cech. A shocking Ramires miss later, Nani unleashed an exocet 25-yard drive into the top corner that left Cech static. Rooney scored his 10th of the season just before half-time when Phil Jones charged into the box and the ball broke kindly to the England striker.

Torres pulled one back straight after the restart when he flicked past De Gea – although his most memorable contribution would come later. Before then Rooney slipped while taking his spot-kick, sending it well wide, and substitute Dimitar Berbatov was denied on the line late on by Cole.