Maurizio Sarri praises character of his Chelsea side

Maurizio Sarri hailed Chelsea’s character after seeing them battle their way to a 2-1 Premier League victory at Newcastle in a dramatic conclusion.

The Blues finally found a way to break down Rafael Benitez’s massed ranks of black and white shirts at St James’ Park as DeAndre Yedlin’s own goal three minutes from time handed them the points. Newcastle substitute Joselu had previously cancelled out Eden Hazard’s penalty.

Chelsea lost 3-0 on Tyneside in the final game of last season under Antonio Conte and new boss Sarri was thrilled with their persistence this time around.

Asked if they had passed a test of character, he said: ‘I think so. To win here is difficult for Chelsea — it’s difficult for every team here.

‘To be drawing five minutes from the end, for us it was more difficult. I think this team, from the character point of view, is a strong team.’

Victory extended Chelsea’s perfect start to the campaign but the Italian was taking nothing for granted when asked how it felt to see them joint-top of the table.

He said: ‘Nothing, I think, because the honour is after 38 matches, so after three… it’s important to start very well, as well as possible, but now the table is not important, I think.’

Magpies boss Benitez, who was unhappy with both the penalty decision and the free-kick which ultimately led to the visitors’ winner, mounted a staunch defence of his tactics in the face of criticism from television pundits with Jamie Redknapp claiming his players would be ’embarrassed’.

He said: ‘When I was at Liverpool, we beat Real Madrid 4-0 at home; we were very offensive. When I was at Napoli, we were attacking all the time; we were offensive.

‘When you are at Newcastle United, you have to manage because you are in the Premier League and you have what you have.’

Magpies skipper Jamaal Lascelles was missing from the starting line-up amid reports of a training ground bust-up with the Spaniard, but Benitez, who insisted the defender was injured, said he had no problem with players making their opinions known.

He said: ‘All my life, I’ve liked to talk with players, so I talk with players, we decide what to do and then we stick with the plan, so everybody knows that.

‘If any player has different opinions, they can give their opinions and after we have to stick with the plan, that’s it.’

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