Belfast Telegraph

Rafael Benitez defends tactics after Newcastle suffer late defeat to Chelsea

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Rafael Benitez has launched a defiant defence of his tactics after his plan to deny Chelsea attracted stinging criticism.

Benitez, as he had done against the Premier League’s big guns last season, adopted an ultra-defensive approach as his side went down 2-1 to Maurizio Sarri’s men at St James’ Park on Sunday afternoon, prompting television pundit Jamie Redknapp to suggest his players would be “embarrassed”.

However, Benitez, whose team had only 19 per cent of the possession, said: “Possession now is just for the TV, for the stats. It means nothing.

“Yesterday, Wolves against Manchester City was an amazing game and they [City] had 71 per cent of possession, so possession means nothing.

“You have to create chances, you have to be solid and you have to do what you have to do to maximise what you have.

“I was watching yesterday teams playing 5-4-1, 4-5-1 and it seems that they are great tacticians and they are fantastic because someone on the TV has an opinion.

“But I was watching the game analysing the stats and I don’t agree with some of these comments. As a manager, you have to make decisions; as a pundit, you have to give opinions. That’s it.”

The Magpies frustrated the visitors for 76 minutes before Marcos Alonso went to ground under Fabian Schar’s challenge and Eden Hazard converted the resulting penalty.

They were back in it within seven minutes when DeAndre Yedlin, who appeared to catch Olivier Giroud with an elbow as he challenged for the ball, crossed for substitute Joselu to head home the equaliser.

However, Chelsea snatched the win with three minutes remaining when Yedlin deflected Alonso’s shot into his own net.

Benitez, who insisted skipper Jamaal Lascelles had missed the game with an ankle injury amid reports of a training ground disagreement with the manager, said: “To concede two goals from a penalty that was very doubtful and a free-kick that was also very doubtful and not winning the second ball, you have to be disappointed after so much effort.”

Opposite number Sarri was delighted with the application of his players as they recorded a third successive win, but was refusing to get carried away by the Blues’ perfect start.

Asked what he thought about seeing his side joint-top of the table, he said: “Nothing, I think, because the honour is after 38 matches, so after three…

“It’s important to start very well, as well as possible, but now the table is not important, I think.

“We knew that it would be a difficult game for us, especially for us, but for every team. Last season, Chelsea lost here, [Manchester] United lost here, Arsenal lost here, so it’s not so easy to play here against this opponent.

“The match was maybe more difficult because in Italy, I never saw Rafa play with five defenders, so low, so compact. It was really very difficult.

“This team from the character point of view is a very strong team.”

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