Interim Chelsea boss Rafael Benitez has blamed referee Howard Webb for the Blues' surprising 3-2 defeat to Newcastle United. The west London club were at St James' Park on Sunday evening for a Premier League fixture they were expected to win. However, a brilliant performance from new signing Moussa Sissoko - the midfielder scored twice, including a 90th minute winner - gave Alan Pardew a hugely memorable home win.
The match was marked by several controversial moments and Webb had a difficult evening. Blues' fans will point to a foul on Senegalese striker Demba Ba as perhaps the most critical. The incident occurred shortly before half-time, when Ba (who joined Chelsea from Newcastle early in the January window) was hit in the face by Fabricio Coloccini's raised foot. The Argentine centre-back, who has only recently resolved a contractual issue with the club, left his mark on his former team-mate, giving the Senegalese a bloody nose. The 31-year-old was not shown a red card for the challenge.
"We couldn't change the situation of Demba Ba. It was a penalty and a red card for me. It completely changed the game. We lost one player with a broken nose, we had one substitution and we had a great reaction in the second half, but it was not enough," the Spanish manager said after the game.
"I want to remind you that happened because sometimes we don't remember these things. I didn't see the incident from the bench because I was watching other things, but after watching the replay it was very clear. A player with a broken nose and bleeding for five minutes is good evidence," the ex-Liverpool boss commented.
The defeat, whether as a result of Webb's actions or not, leaves Chelsea in third in the Premier League, with 46 points from 25 games. It could prove a costly loss in the race for Champions League football next term.
The Stamford Bridge club are battling London rivals Tottenham, Arsenal and Everton for third place and a win and a draw on Saturday for Arsene Wenger and David Moyes respectively, coupled with the Blues' defeat, means the gap between the Gunners in sixth and Chelsea is now only five points. With Spurs still to play (Andre Villas-Boas faces West Brom at the Hawthorns on 3 February), the gap between the north London club and Chelsea could shrink to just one point.
Nevertheless, Benitez remains calm about the future and insists he is happy with his squad's performances. The former Inter Milan manager also said he expected a top three finish.
"We are doing a good job in terms of what you can see on the pitch... very good team spirit and that is really positive - and I am confident that we will finish in the top three. I will do well. Next week, we have players coming back. Hopefully, we can play well, we can win and then carry on. If you analyse the games, then we could have won every single game we have drawn or lost, every single game," he explained.