Six months is a short time to judge a man, far less a man who is in charge of European and recently crowned world champions but Rafa Benitez managed to back himself in a corner at Inter, if ever there was one. Benitez’s words may have had a ring of truth in them but his manner and more importantly the ill timing of his comments have seen him dumped by Inter sooner than one would have imagined.
For a man that oversaw Inter slip to seventh in the table and suffer more defeats in the first half of this season than the whole of last season (seven losses this term compared to six from 2009-10) it beggars belief that he would call his record into focus in such a way.
In the past six months, Benitez has gone about trying to stamp his mark on the team. He arrived in Milan and promised, “We’ll win while playing good football.” Unfortunately for the Spaniard, this proved untrue as his Nerazzurri side scored only 20 goals in their 15 games as against the 34 times they found the back of the net at the same stage under Jose Mourinho in the previous season.
Benitez tried to tinker with his formation repeatedly and many felt that this was an unnecessary tactical change he tried to introduce to the team. Inter’s defence has been moved further up the pitch and the team prefers a possession game rather than the counter-attack from the season past.
This saw the Nerazzurri dominate control of the ball as on an average the team has enjoyed over 55 percent possession this term but also drastically reduced the number of goals they scored on the counter. If one goes back to Inter’s treble winning campaign, we will notice that their most important goals came on the counter, including the two strikes in the Champions League final.
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In a bid to introduce a more attacking look to the side, Benitez often allowed his players to stay in the opposition half rather than play a pressing game as they did previously. The opposition is not put being pressured when they are in possession and this has seen Inter concede a considerably more number of goals as well.
This has been most evident in Europe where the Nerazzurri let in 11 goals in the group stages as compared to only six from last year. The defensive unit consists of players who are more tactically sound, like Lucio, Ivan Cordoba or Walter Samuel (before the injury) than ones who are pacey. The high defensive line coupled with the lesser pressuring by the forwards and the midfield has been a prime reason for Inter’s ailments this season.
The possession play of Inter saw an increase in the number of shots they have had but this has been coupled with a poor conversion rate. The latter can probably be attributed to the disastrous showings by Diego Milito and Goran Pandev in recent weeks but it also highlights Inter’s lack of creativity.
With the team holding on to the ball, the opposition more often than not camp inside their own half and we even saw Milan use the same tactic in their Derby Della Maddonina win in November. This places the onus on Inter to break them down bit by bit but they don’t have the players to do so.
Wesley Sneijder has been off colour this year and most of his contributions last term came when Inter were breaking away quickly. Sneijder is a brilliant passer of the ball but he can’t create something from nothing like a Lionel Messi.
And now finally, analyzing Benitez’s request for new recruits whereby he demanded three new players and a replacement for Walter Samuel. While, it is true that the Inter squad is not getting younger and some of the players are past their prime, the addition of five new players seems excessive.
The number of injuries the squad has encountered has no doubt made life hard for the Nerazzurri but at times Benitez’s decisions made a bad situation look worse. It is hard to comprehend how a team that had the better of Barcelona last term slips to defeat against the likes of Chievo and Werder Bremen. Furthermore, a public request for a host of new faces didn’t instill much confidence in the players currently at your disposal either.
Most of this Inter side has its loyalties towards Mourinho as was seen by their dedication of the Club World Cup title to their former coach. Benitez lost some of the main members of the dressing room in the form of Marco Materazzi and Dejan Stankovic. Materazzi may not cut it as an Inter player anymore but his influence on the squad and players is clear for everyone to see.
The Nerazzurri do need new faces but not necessarily to the same extent as Benitez seems to suggest. The addition of a defender like Andrea Ranocchia will be invaluable and so will be an attacking midfielder in the mould of Alexis Sanchez perhaps. But unfortunately Rafa won't be the one managing them.