Reflecting on a first defeat in five games, Rafael Benitez acknowledged that a quality penalty save by Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart could have been the match’s turning point.
Chelsea had the chance to take the lead shortly after the interval in Sunday lunchtime’s game, but in the contest between two England players Hart saved Frank Lampard’s spot-kick. Instead it was left to Yaya Toure to opening the scoring with Carlos Tevez doubling the advantage late on, giving the home side a 2-0 win in the meeting of the Premier League’s second and third-placed sides.
‘In the first half we didn’t do well, we were giving the ball away, we were not winning second balls or switching play as we were expecting so we didn’t create too much,’ said Benitez.
‘But in the second half everything changed and we had the penalty and yes, it could have been different.
‘We didn’t do well in the first half but at half-time it was still 0-0 so we were talking about keeping the ball a bit better and showing more character, and then we had the penalty so it was a crucial moment.
‘It was a good penalty by Frank but it was a good save so it is credit to Joe Hart.’
On the decision not show Hart a card when he brought down Demba Ba for the penalty…
‘I haven’t seen the replay but it was at least a yellow card,’ claimed Benitez. ‘You can argue he [Ba] was not running in the right direction but still it was a clear chance so at least a yellow card.’
On Man City being on top in midfield in the first half…
‘It was true we were not winning balls and we were not comfortable in possession, and they are quite strong and have a good team with good players, so we knew it could be tough but still they were controlling this area so we had to change things in the second half, especially in terms of the mentality and how to approach the game.
‘The second half we were pushing and had more options but still we took the risk and they had some counter attacks that were dangerous. We are talking about the team that won the league last year so they have good players and if you make mistakes they can make you pay for them.’
On the remainder of the league season…
‘When you lose you have to be disappointed and this game was important for us because we could have been closer to Man City but we cannot give up, we have to carry on, try to win our games and get close.
‘We have to fight for the top four because Arsenal, Tottenham and Everton are close behind.’
Man City manager Roberto Mancini acknowledged the penalty save by Hart was significant but believed his team were on track to win the game anyway.
‘It was important after our game against Southampton to start this game well, strongly, and not concede anything,’ said the Italian.
‘It was not easy because Chelsea have fantastic players. It is difficult to play against Chelsea, against Mata and Ba, Hazard and Lampard, but I was sure we could do a good game today.
‘The penalty save was important because maybe the game could change, but if they scored we had 40 minutes left and we were playing well. We deserved to win because we played well and we could score maybe more goals.’