Rafa Benitez reacts to criticism of his Newcastle tactics against Chelsea

Maurizio Sarri
Maurizio Sarri

Rafa Benitez hit back at criticism of his tactics after Newcastle United’s 2-1 defeat to Chelsea.

An 88th-minute own goal from DeAndre Yedlin saw the visitors take all three points.

Joselu had earlier cancelled out a controversial penalty from Eden Hazard.

United manager Benitez, without Jamaal Lascelles, Jonjo Shelvey and Kenedy, had fielded a five-man defence against Chelsea at St James’s Park.

Paul Lambert – who left Stoke City after the club’s relegation last season – said he’d never coach a team to defend like Newcastle did against Mauricio Sarri’s expensively-assembled side.

And TV presenters Richard Keys and Andy Gray – who have defended United owner Mike Ashley in recent weeks – were again critical of Benitez, who had to sell to buy in the summer.

I like to play with five strikers if I can. In all my life, we have to be organised, playing attacking football and to score more goals than the others.

Rafa Benitez

Asked about the criticism, Benitez said: “I like to play with five strikers if I can.

“In all my life, we have to be organised, playing attacking football and to score more goals than the others.

“I like to be organised defensively, but now, again, I was watching teams (on Saturday) playing 5-4-1, and it’s said they are great tacticians, because someone has an opinion on TV.

“I was watching, and I don’t agree with some decisions. As a manager, you have to make your own decisions.”

Chelsea had 81% of possession against Newcastle, who had beaten them 3-0 on the final day of last season.

“A long time ago, Barcelona had 80% and they lost the game. The stats are just for the TV.

“Man City had 71% possession (against Wolverhampton Wanderers) and didn’t win.

“You have to do what you have to do. That’s it.

Reflecting on the game, Benitez said: “In the end, I think we worked so hard.

“Against these teams you can lose because they play a crucial pass, or ball behind, or fantastic cross, so to conceded two goals, a penalty that was doubtful, and a free-kick that was doubtful.

“We’re disappointed with the second ball.”

Referee Paul Tierney pointed to the spot after Marcus Alonso went down in the box under a challenge from Fabian Schar, making his competitive debut for the club.

“I’m not happy with the penalty,” said Benitez.

“I will have to analyse (it) carefully. I will not complain too much about that.

“I’m more concerned about the second goal, because after the foul we have to make more concentration.

“Obviously, we were nearly there, very close. I have to give credit to my players for the effort they have (put in).

“It’s not about me and tactics, it’s about players, the bigger picture. Last season we were best team in the bottom 10, and we hope to do the same again. I’m not happy with how we gave the ball away.”

Chelsea manager Sarri said: “We knew it would be a difficult game for us. I think it’s not so easy to play here against this opponent and this match has been more difficult. In Italy, I have never seen Rafa play with five defenders. They were so compact.”