Sir Alex Ferguson conceded that his title-winning Manchester United team had lost their “edge” having been beaten in the last three minutes by Chelsea, a result which takes Rafa Benitez's team closer to their goal of Champions League qualification.
Chelsea won the game with a shot from Juan Mata which was deflected in off Phil Jones and later credited to the Manchester United defender by the Premier League, but it was the outspoken nature of Ferguson's criticism of his own side afterwards that gave a true picture of the game.
"We have taken our foot off the pedal in a big way, there was no edge to our game," Ferguson said. "I think Chelsea deserved to win. Unfortunately it's controversial, it always is when you play Chelsea, it's happened quite a lot of times, but we can't complain, we didn't play well enough."
While Ferguson agreed that Rafael Da Silva deserved to be sent off for kicking out at David Luiz in injury-time at the end of the game he said that the player had been retaliating to an elbow from his opponent.
Ferguson said: "He [Rafael] retaliates but he [Luiz] quite clearly elbows him twice then rolls about like a dying swan, and that convinces the referee. He was smiling, it's bad. What kind of professional is that?
"It was rash what he did, he's a young lad and should know better but retaliation never works.
"I wouldn't say it was violent conduct. The referee hasn't even seen it, I don't think he could see it at all but he has gone with the fact that Luiz has rolled about on the floor and I think that has convinced him it was a red card."
He added: "I don't think it was a foul [on Wayne Rooney in the build-up to the goal], we weren't getting anything from the referee anyway. It was a bit of a lucky goal, it deflected off Phil Jones so we had bad luck with that. I can't make any excuse for my players in terms of performance. The referee's decisions went against us I thought, they surrounded the referee all day, four and five players all the time and I think that affected the referee."
Later, in an interview with MUTV, Ferguson blamed the South American football culture for Luiz's reaction. He said: "The referee has been bought by the fact Luiz has rolled about. He has actually elbowed him [Rafael] twice, Luiz. It is quite clear on the camera.
"Whether the referee will do anything about it I doubt it very, very much, Howard Webb won't be bothering himself about that. He was certainly elbowed but you know what happens when a player retaliates: he gets punished the most and that is what happened.
"He [Luiz] rolled about. You see that a lot with European, foreign players and South Americans. He did roll about and made it look worse. I don't think the referee has seen it. He has been convinced by Luiz's reaction."
The win for Chelsea means that if they beat Tottenham Hotspur at home on Wednesday they will be all but guaranteed a top-four finish and Champions League football next season, regardless of what happens in the final two games by virtue of goal difference. Now third in the league, they were without Eden Hazard yesterday who has a calf problem and is a doubt for Wednesday's game.
Benitez said it was a "massive result" for his team. He said: "We knew we had to get six or seven points to guarantee a finish in the top four. We have got three points here and now we play against Tottenham and we are in the driving seat. Hopefully we can stay there until the end."
Petr Cech described the winning goal as a "massive moment". He said: "After the results [of Arsenal and Spurs] on Saturday we knew that we had to win and we have a massive game on Wednesday against Tottenham.
"Now we go into the game three points ahead of them and if we win that game we leave them behind so this was a massive moment and changed the preparation for Wednesday."Reuse content