Lazio inflicted another defeat on Serie A champions Inter with coach Rafael Benitez’s position becoming weaker and weaker with every passing week. The victory against Parma in the previous round was by a big score raising hope the Nerazzurri will be back on the right track yet many failed to note the Ducali are having a poor season and are in the bottom half of the table.
Injuries cannot continue to be used as an excuse as the form of certain key players like Wesley Sneijder has been quite disappointing this season. The extended World Cup campaign has had a negative effect on certain players, in particular Sneijder who is a shadow of the player who helped the Nerazzurri achieve a historic treble last season. Inter’s solid defensive line has struggled this season due to injuries but also due to the struggles of Lucio and Maicon. The biggest blow came when Walter Samuel was ruled out for the reason of the season due to his horrific injury. This certainly qualifies as a massive blow for the Nerazzurri yet this offered a window of opportunity for coach Benitez to either introduce Davide Santon as a starter on the flanks and moving Cristian Chivu to a central role in the back-line. One other option would be to have captain Javier Zanetti play as a full-back too while starting Ivan Cordoba in the back as a partner of Lucio.
Benitez has struggled to shape this team based on his strategy and has not been able to get the best out of the squad available at his disposal. Once again, it must be said that injuries have negatively affected the Nerazzurri but other factors have played a role as well. Benitez is not as good as former coach Jose Mourinho when it comes to motivating players, manipulating a situation to get the best out of his players and preparing his teams for certain matches. Inter have become too dependent on Samuel Eto’o and appear toothless whenever he is having an off night or suspended, as was the case for the Lazio clash.
Benitez’s approach does not inspire confidence and one can tell the players are not playing with the same swagger as last season under Mourinho. There are complaints about injuries, there is the excuse of bad luck, there is talk of opponents scoring from their limited opportunities and so forth. Rarely do champions resort to unconvincing or weak excuses to justify a tough spell in terms of results. The loss of Walter Samuel has been a major blow but that cannot excuse the poor form of their other starters. Other teams have in recent seasons endured a plethora of injuries but were able to cope with such emergencies and the Nerazzurri must do better considering they have been regarded as one of the deeper teams in Serie A.
Benitez now has the FIFA Club World Cup to redeem himself but if he cannot bring back the trophy to Italy then the Spaniard will likely be on his way out as the tifosi have not warmed up to his hiring. Fate has it that rivals Juventus were linked with Benitez during the summer yet he ended up with the Nerazzurri. Ironically at this stage, the Bianconeri appear to be building towards the future and improving while the Nerazzurri continue to struggle, have looked both slower and void of ideas when attacking opponents as well as the fact they are already seven points behind city rivals Milan.
The match against Werder Bremen in the Champions League will serve as a test for Benitez. While qualification to the Round of 16 has been secured, beating the worst team in the group will provide a massive boost to the team’s morale. Benitez is unlikely to rest players since first place in the group is on the line and this could make a big difference in terms of Inter’s next opponent in the elimination round. Only positive results will save Benitez’s job but it has become clear that failing to win the Club World Cup will usher a change in the coaching staff at Inter.