Sir Alex Ferguson was critical of his Manchester United players as he reflected on the 3-1 defeat of Chelsea and another anguished day for Fernando Torres that ended with the Old Trafford manager accusing Ashley Cole of going "over the edge" in the tackle that injured Javier Hernández.
An angry Ferguson felt the England left-back had committed a "shocking challenge" but his dissatisfaction also spread to his own players, with Wayne Rooney not above criticism. United have had their best start to a league season since 1985 but Ferguson's jubilation about the winning run was accompanied by some harsh words that illustrate the exacting standards he demands from his team.
"For the neutrals it was fantastic and open. Some of our football was terrific but we were so careless we could have thrown it away. We did OK when we got the ball to Nani and Ashley Young [in the wide positions] but when we tried to be clever in the middle of the field we kept botching it up and Chelsea kept counter-attacking."
United, he said, had been guilty of "making things hard for ourselves by giving the ball away so many times in attacking areas". Later, he identified one missed opportunity by the substitute Dimitar Berbatov and blamed Rooney for "a terrible pass, a really bad pass".
United had taken the lead when Chris Smalling headed in Young's free-kick and by half-time they were 3-0 in front, Nani beating Petr Cech with a brilliant long‑range effort before Rooney scored his ninth goal in seven matches.
Torres gave Chelsea hope in the first minute of the second half, but his performance will be remembered for an inexplicable miss in front of the Stretford End, after he had gone round the goalkeeper, David de Gea, and left himself with an open goal. "I thought Torres was bound to score," the United manager said. "It's a bad miss."
Ferguson went on to compare the moment with one of the departed Diego Forlan's worst misses for United, recalling a player who for long spells was synonymous for his failures in front of goal.
Torres, with two goals in 24 games for Chelsea, had looked brighter in flashes than at many other times since signing for the west London club last January and André Villas-Boas was supportive of his player. "I really don't know what effect it will have," he said. "We also saw Wayne Rooney miss a penalty. The worst things happen to the best strikers in the world and today it happened to both of them. It was a good goal early in the second half, and the rest does not matter."
Villas-Boas, reflecting on the way "the score went crazy in the first half", was encouraged by his team's performance after the interval. "It could have gone to 5-0 and it is good that the team responded to things not going their own way. It takes some balls. They [United] are in a good position now but it's very, very early in the season."
Chelsea's manager talked of it being "an even match" and headed back to the capital convinced that two of United's goals had been offside. "It didn't fall our way, not just in terms of goalscoring opportunities, but also the refereeing and linesman's decisions. I was really unhappy with the way the linesman performed."
Ferguson, however, also had his grievances with the officials, predominantly for the events surrounding Cole's challenge on Hernández. "The referee has booked him for it so I don't know why it wasn't a penalty," he said. "He's very reckless at times, Ashley Cole. He is committed, of course, but he sometimes can go over the edge a bit and that was an example. We will have to see what the damage is in the morning but his [Hernández's] leg is very numb and he could be out for a couple of weeks."
Villas-Boas also appeared to accept that it was a poor challenge. "Maybe he would not [have done it] if the linesman had done his work. Maybe he [Cole] would have been a bit more clear. Maybe, if it is 0-0, Ashley is a bit more in control of the situation."