Inter’s Decline Under Rafael Benitez
Under Jose Mourinho, Inter gradually developed an aura of invincibility, and their defence – generally made up of Maicon, Lucio, Samuel and Chivu (or Zanetti) – had become the envy of the rest of Europe. The Nerazzurri had finally brought back the success of generations gone by, and despite one or two question marks over the overall age, the squad looked formidable with quality players in every part of the team; Julio Cesar, Maicon, Walter Samuel, Lucio, Cambiasso, Sneijder, Eto’o and Milito to name a few.
Having secured a historic treble, Mourinho departed to take the reigns at Real Madrid, and Benitez was brought in to replace him. Since that moment, things seem to have got steadily worse for Inter. First they were tactically outclassed in the European Super Cup by Atlético Madrid, although this was followed by a more promising performanace in a 3-1 win over Roma in the Italian Super Cup.
After only managing to win the much less prestigious of these two trophies, which Mourinho considered to be “on a plate” for Benitez, Inter haven’t showed any real signs of improvement. Convincing 4-0 wins over Werder Bremen and Bari have been two of the only high-points of their season so far, but Bari are rooted to the bottom of Serie A and Werder Bremen are languishing in 11th place of the Bundesliga following their recent 6-0 humiliation at the hands of Stuttgart.
Benitez has to be held directly responsible for this slump, as he has handled just about every aspect of the team extremely poorly. Firstly, he wasn’t given any money to build a side in his image, so it was absolutely vital that he didn’t attempt to make any major changes to the way the team plays. Possibly out of pure stubbornness, he has tried his best to do so anyway by using two returning young, raw talents on the wings; Coutinho and Johnathan Biabiany. These two youngsters have been used in an effort to play uncharacteristically (both for Inter and Benitez) attacking, high-pressing football, but this move simply hasn’t paid off. These two players lack the experience to assert themselves regularly at a high level, and Coutinho is much more comfortable when he is playing as a central playmaker. As a result, Inter have often found themselves “enjoying” large periods of possession but they have lacked the spark and intelligence to open their opposition up.
Benitez’ insistence on playing a high defensive line has been even more bizarre. Inter’s defenders are fantastic in the tackle, dogged, brave and generally dominant in the air, but they can also be made to look very ordinary if they aren’t used correctly (as demonstrated by Walter Samuel and Lucio’s struggles at their previous clubs). One of their undoubted weaknesses is having balls played in behind them, and the high line has already caused this weakness to become exposed on multiple occasions. Gareth Bale managed to humiliate the previously-proud defence three times at the San Siro, and yet Inter still failed to learn their lesson. Bale again had repeated success in the return match, and things got no better against AC Milan. Milan broke Inter’s long, proud unbeaten home record with relative ease by playing early balls over the top of the defence for Ibrahimovic and Robinho to run onto, and in truth, they could’ve scored several more goals from this simple, unsubtle method of breaking through the Inter defence.
Unless Moratti loses patience before it’s too late (which is perfectly likely, considering his track record), it’s entirely possible that Inter will finish second to Spurs in Group A of the Champions League and then get overrun in the first knockout stage if they are drawn with one of the big forces. Jose Mourinho will be the smuggest man alive, as if he wasn’t already.