Villas-Boas vindicated after Lampard left out
Andre Villas-Boas was in the mood to take on all-comers at Stamford Bridge - whether it was tackling the task of leaving out a Chelsea icon or coming out swinging against his critics.
Villas-Boas spoke of "persecution" as he settled scores with his detractors in an outburst that was an entertaining, if arguably ill-timed, piece of theatre.
He had proved his courage as a manager and now it was time to confront another enemy after a 3-0 win over Valencia sealed qualification to the Champions League knockout phase.
And the 34-year-old's tactical and managerial bravery cannot be in question after he responded to the biggest game of his short Chelsea career by making the most important call of his time at Stamford Bridge.
Villas-Boas will have known the potential dangers of excluding Frank Lampard from a Champions League game, when fit and available, for the first time since September 2003.
If Chelsea had failed to get the result they needed against Valencia to reach the knockout phase - and failed with a man whose record of 20 goals in 81 games in the competition once had him labelled one of the "untouchables" by Jose Mourinho - then his team-sheet might just have had a P45 look about it.
And yet he had the guts to leave out Lampard, shaping an impressive new-look midfield and establishing the platform for Chelsea to move into the last 16 as Group E winners.
Villas-Boas was animated on the touchline during Chelsea's win over Valencia. Photo: AP
Villas-Boas was under pressure before kick-off but his response was ruthless, measured and just about perfect. All judgements were justified.
Make no mistake this was a huge move on Villas-Boas's part. He would have faced an inquisition had it gone wrong but he showed self-belief to make the first serious switch in Chelsea's established order - and was rewarded with his best night since arriving at Stamford Bridge last summer.
Villas-Boas showered Lampard with praise amid his taunting of those who questioned his position, but there was a look of the future about Chelsea's midfield and look of the past about their methods to earn victory.
The Portuguese insists his positive philosophy will never die, but this was a win built on old values. As one member of Chelsea's old guard could not even make it on as substitute, another was rolling back the years to stake a claim for a place in the future.
Didier Drogba, now 33, has looked a tired old beast this season, but in recent times has started to wake from his slumbers. Villas-Boas's decision to finally accept he is a better bet than Fernando Torres has helped - and on Tuesday he delivered a performance from his pomp.
The battering ram was back, along with the more subtle touches in among the carnage. Drogba scored twice, made another for Ramires and may just have had Chelsea's power-brokers thinking a two-year deal may not be such a bad idea after all.
This night, though, belonged to Villas-Boas. And he how he celebrated it, almost going into orbit when Ramires scored Chelsea's second before marching briskly into the press room for a scattergun attack on the media.
Villas-Boas has had plenty of pressure placed upon him, caused mostly by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich's back story of a willingness to dispense with managers in short order.
He will not need a long memory to know that his predecessor Carlo Ancelotti was sacked 12 months after winning the double.
But he has also had plenty of sympathy in the media, including here it should be said. Many commentators were swift to point out the folly of not letting this clearly very able and emerging young coach last beyond the first few months of his tenure.
Perhaps it was anxiety? Perhaps it was relief? Villas-Boas cut the appearance of a man with plenty to get off his chest on Tuesday and most of it landed on those of us in the media. Indeed, when he finished stage one of his riposte laughter rippled around as the interpreter got to grips with the strength of the Chelsea manager's feelings.
In his defence he has had criticism so there was a measure of justification in his reaction - and if we cannot take it, we should not dish it out. He is allowed the right of reply and he ensured he took it in a very vocal, emphatic manner.
The problem for Villas-Boas is whether he has gone too early with his attack, with Premier League leaders Manchester City arriving at Stamford Bridge next Monday.
Nothing should be allowed to cast a cloud on this success, however, a win that will give him breathing space and stop the distress signals.
And while Lampard must never be written off, there was a fluidity, movement and structure about Chelsea that hinted at the first real signs of what Villas-Boas is trying to achieve. This team had a Villas-Boas stamp on it - all helped by getting his big decisions spot on.
Chelsea defended deeper, with captain John Terry immaculate and David Luiz much improved, while youngster Oriol Romeu, just 20, was so impressive in a midfield holding role. The boy from Barcelona has the desire to treat possession preciously in his genes, a lesson to the wasteful Jon Obi Mikel.
He allowed Ramires and Raul Meireles to play to their strengths while the width provided by Daniel Sturridge and the outstanding Juan Mata augmented the power of Drogba.
This meant that, while Chelsea had long periods without possession, when they did they used it to greater effect.
There was no mistaking what this victory meant to Villas-Boas, during or after the match. It concluded a satisfactory few days after the win at Newcastle United. He can be forgiven for revelling in the release of pressure that had built up.
He announced victory was "a slap in the face" to those who had questioned him at Chelsea. The questions may start again if they cannot make it three in a row against Manchester City - but this was a big night for Villas-Boas.