Rafa Benitez reacts to criticism of his Newcastle tactics during narrow defeat

Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez.
Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez.
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Rafa Benitez defended his tactics after Newcastle United’s 1-0 defeat to Manchester City.

A first-half goal from Raheem Sterling saw the Premier League leaders record an 18th successive victory.

Newcastle defended deep and in numbers before Sterling’s 31st-minute strike.

And TV pundits Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville were critical of Benitez’s defensive gameplan.

Neville said it was the “most defensive” approach he had seen in the division.

United’s manager, however, felt his tactics were vindicated by the fact that his team, assembled at a fraction of the cost of City’s, was in the game until the final whistle.

Asked about the criticism, Benitez said: “If we score at the end, they will be really pleased with the performance of the team.

“When you play against Manchester City, the way that they are doing now, you can see the approach of Tottenham, Bournemouth, Swansea or anyone.

“We were in the game until the end. It was very close.

“I think that our fans are clever and they knew we needed to do it this way.

“Some of the counter-attacks in the first half were not the best.

“But we knew we had to stick together and try to do what we did.

“In the last 20 minutes we were pushing and we put them under pressure and had a couple of chances.

“It was a pity, because we could get a point against a very good team.”

Benitez added: “If you lose 1-0 it’s better than 4-0, but it was not ideal.

“The idea was to get points and win if we could. To win, we had to do everything perfect and they had to have a bad day.”

Newcastle remain in 15th place ahead of Saturday’s home game against Brighton and Hove Albion.

The fixture is followed by a game on New Years Day away to Stoke City.

Meanwhile, the result saw City go 15 points clear at the top of the Premier League.

Sterling said: “It was a great team performance today.

“I thought they (Newcastle) soaked up the pressure really well and counter-attacked a few times.

“We put pressure on ourselves at times and didn’t make it easy.

“But we dug in and that shows the team spirit. We stayed together and calm and got the win.”

Sterling’s chance was created by Kevin De Bruyne, who clipped a ball into the box for him.

The England international beat United goalkeeper Rob Elliot at his near post with a left-footed shot.

Newcastle: Elliot, Yedlin, Mbemba (Merino 77), Lascelles, Dummett, Manquillo, Aarons (Atsu 71), Diame, Shelvey, Murphy, Joselu (Gayle 62). Subs Not Used: Clark, Ritchie, Perez, Darlow.

Man City: Ederson, Walker, Kompany (Gabriel Jesus 11), Otamendi, Danilo, De Bruyne, Fernandinho, Gundogan, Bernardo Silva (Sane 83), Aguero (Mangala 77), Sterling. Subs Not Used: Bravo, Adarabioyo, Toure, Diaz.

Att: 52,311 Ref: Andre Marriner (West Midlands).