Jose Mourinho has maintained that bad refereeing was to blame for Real Madrid's 1-0 Primera Division defeat at Real Betis.
Benat Etxebarria's first-half strike dealt a heavy blow to Madrid's hopes of defending their title, and despite total domination from Real throughout they failed to find a way past Betis goalkeeper Adrian at the Estadio Benito Villamarin.
Karim Benzema had two goals dubiously ruled out for offside, and Mourinho was also aggrieved at referee Jesus Gil Manzano's decision to deny his side's penalty appeal for handball in stoppage time.
"I congratulated the Betis players because they gave it their all and fought from the first minute to the last with great spirit and sacrifice," Mourinho said.
"They aren't to blame for Benzema's goal being ruled out or the clear penalty in the last minutes of the match and therefore they deserve my respect because they played better than Real Madrid.
"Despite benefiting from the referee's two mistakes, they deserved to win."
The defeat was Real's first in nine La Liga matches and leaves an eight point gap between them and arch rivals Barcelona, who could stretch their lead even further at Levante on Sunday night.
Mourinho held his hands up for the loss, saying: "Football is like that. When we win, we all win and some more than others, but when we lose the coach loses and therefore I am to blame. The players aren't to blame. I am."
The former Chelsea boss also urged the club's fans not to be too downhearted at the gulf between themselves and Barca in the standings, insisting that the title race was still "wide open".
"Last season we had 10 more points than our opponents in March and then we drew twice and the situation became more complicated," he said.
"Maybe at the end of the year we are 11, 13, nine, eight or 12 points behind. We are not going to be four, five or three points behind. It's wide open, but let's not be too optimistic nor too pessimistic.
"It's complicated, but I can't focus on just one competition. It's impossible. I think from one match to the next and the next match is the Copa del Rey, then La Liga and then it's the Champions League.
"But at this point last season our fans were optimistic, it's understandable that now they are pessimistic and think we can't go on to win."
Information from the Press Association was used in this report.