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Maurizio Sarri joined the chorus of disapproval for the negative tactics employed by Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez as Chelsea won 2-1 at St James’ Park on Sunday.
Sarri said he was stunned by the Benitez’s defensive approach as Newcastle put nine men behind the ball and played with one striker, despite being the home side.
“We knew that it would be a difficult game for us, and every team that comes here,” Sarri said.
“But it has been more difficult because in Italy I never saw Rafa play with five defenders at the back,” said Sarri, who arrived in the summer after leaving a job at Napoli where he had succeeded Benitez.
“It meant we needed to move the ball very fast.”
Others were even more scathing of Benitez after Newcastle enjoyed less than 20 percent of the possession.
Former Liverpool star Jamie Redknapp, working for Sky Sports, said: “I don’t buy into those tactics. If you’re going to Manchester City, against the champions, by all means. But not at home. The possession stats are embarrassing.
“If you’re a Newcastle player in that dressing room, you’re embarrassed because you know you can play more.”
And Graeme Souness, who once managed Newcastle, said: “If I was a player in that team, I would rather have been beaten 3-0 having a go, than losing like that.”
Benitez almost had the last laugh because Newcastle were on the verge of taking a point from the game.
They held out until the 76th minute when Eden Hazard scored from the spot after Marcos Alonso was brought down by Fabian Schar.
Benitez was not happy about the decision, but Alonso said: “I think I touched the ball and got in front of the opponent. It’s not that I felt the contact and went down, he made me.”
– ‘We never give up’ –
Newcastle equalised in a rare attack in the 83rd minute when Joselu headed in a cross from DeAndre Yedlin, who appeared to elbow Olivier Giroud in the build-up.
“I don’t know if it was elbow, but I know it was the first time they had been in our box,” said Sarri.
Yedlin was to be involved crucially again four minutes later when he diverted Alonso’s shot into his own goal to seal Chelsea’s third successive victory.
“Everyone was thinking of a draw when they scored but we are Chelsea and we never give up,” Hazard said.
“We did well, created a lot of chances and we deserved to win. I feel tired tonight, but the whole team is tired but we have the points.”
Chelsea are now second in the table, level on points with Liverpool and Watford, but Sarri isn’t getting carried away by his flawless start.
“It means nothing. The season is about 38 games, but it is important to start as well as possible. Now, though, the table is not important,” Sarri said.
Newcastle, however, have just one point from their three games, yet Benitez remains optimistic and refused to apologise for his approach to the game.
“You have to do what you have to do. That’s it,” he said.