Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink has accused Watford's players of trying to provoke Diego Costa in last night's (3 February) 0-0 draw at Vicarage Road. The 69-year-old Dutchman said Watford's Juan Carlos Paredes attempted to get the Spaniard dismissed following an off-the-ball incident near the dugout.
Costa, 27, clashed with Paredes just before half time, in an incident that left the Watford player holding his face in agony. However, Hiddink insisted it was the Chelsea man who was the victim of the flashpoint.
"It was clear what happened 10 yards in front of our eyes," he said, according to The Sun. "Costa was punched in the back and stumbled.
"Then Paredes brought his hands to his face even though Diego was nowhere near to his head and this is something we must not do. It's provocation to get someone off the pitch, but happily the referee and the assistant saw what happened."
Hiddink admitted the Chelsea striker - who was booked for his part in the incident - relishes the physical side of the game, but claimed he was provoked by the Ecuadorian defender. "This is a man's game and central defenders are big guys who play on the edge. But you mustn't provoke," the Chelsea boss insisted.
"Diego likes to go physical, but he must do that within the rules. Sometimes opponents get physical with him and he has to get used to that. I spoke to him at half-time but he was calm and in control. He said, 'I'll focus on what I have to do'. Nothing else was needed from me or the other players to calm him down."
Hiddink also promised he would continue to defend the Chelsea striker, who has been widely accused of using underhand tactics himself, perhaps most notably during the Blues' home game against Arsenal earlier in the Premier League season. "He felt he was provoked and I will protect him when that happens," Hiddink said.