Interim Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink has accused Watford full-back Juan Carlos Paredes of punching Blues striker Diego Costa during Wednesday's 0-0 draw between the two teams.
Both players were shown yellow cards on the stroke of half-time after a scuffle that ended with Paredes on the floor clutching his face, with Costa needing to be restrained by both managers on the touchline. However, Hiddink said Paredes baited Costa into lashing out, per the Telegraph's Matt Law:
We were very close, 10 yards from our bench, and Paredes punched Diego in his back and then they stumbled. Then Paredes brought his hand to his head and Diego was nowhere near his head. They stumbled. This is something that we must not do. It's provocation to get someone off the pitch.
Happily the referee and the assistant saw it, and didn't think it was provocation. There was no way that Diego was close to his face.
After a lengthy stoppage, both players were carded for the roles they played in the fray, but Costa was clearly the more incensed of the two after seeing what he felt was an overreaction from the Watford man, who fell to the floor clutching his face.
The Spain international was involved in another altercation with Paredes just prior to the incident that saw both Hiddink and Hornets chief Quique Sanchez Flores leap from the bench. The Chelsea boss added that he felt there was some provocation:
"This is a man's game. Our central defender, their central defender, other clubs’ central defenders are big guys who play on the edge. Sometimes over the edge, which is what you like when it's a man's game. But you mustn't provoke. That's what we must not do."
The Dutchman said he spoke to his player at half-time, minutes after the aforementioned incident, and Costa was fine to continue, per Law: “He was calm. He was in control. He said ‘I will focus on what I have to do’. Nothing else was needed from me or the other players to calm him down. He felt he was provoked, and I will protect him when he is provoked.”
Costa has been renowned as an aggressive player since his days at Atletico Madrid, and while it works to his advantage at times, it also makes him an easy target for opponents who like to prey on his volatile nature.
Having said that, Watford captain Troy Deeney admitted to BT Sport that he'd be "having a word" with Paredes for what he seemed to feel were underhanded tactics:
Costa now has eight yellow cards in 29 appearances for Chelsea this season, seven of which have come in the Premier League, meaning he's just three cautions from his third suspension of the 2015-16 campaign.
The west London giants have loaned Corinthians striker Alexandre Pato for the remainder of the season. Hiddink will hope his cover isn't needed, however, after suggesting Costa's reputation perhaps precedes him.