Inter Milan wasted the chance to seal qualification to the next phase of the Champions League after succumbing timidly to Tottenham in London. Gareth Bale was once more the hero for the Lily Whites as the Welshman set up the second and third goals for his team in a performance that left Maicon chasing little more than shadows all night long.
While the English press went into overdrive praising the 21 year-old, the Nerazzurri and coach Rafa Benitez in particular were left with some introspection to do. A string of injuries to the team saw Inter start with Sulley Muntari and Javier Zanetti in midfield with Goran Pandev and Jonathan Biabiany supporting the prolific Samuel Eto’o. Within the first ten minutes it was clear that this was destined to be a long night for the Inter faithful as Bale got behind Maicon with relative ease on a couple of occasions and threatened to do so every time the Londoners broke forward.
The same Inter which had managed to keep Lionel Messi quiet only six months ago were left scratching their heads against a pacy youngster. It was surprising to see the Nerazzurri and Benitez making the same mistakes which allowed Bale to net his hat-trick at the San Siro a fortnight ago. Maicon was always going to be second best against the Welshman and yet he was provided with no cover by his coach. Inter sorely missed Esteban Cambiasso who has always been so pivotal in breaking down oppositions’ attacks. One can safely say that had the Argentine been there, Tottenham wouldn’t have found Inter’s defence as easy as to breach as they did on Tuesday night.
The midfield duo of Muntari and Zanetti showed their lack of playing time together and were disconnected during much of the game. The Ghanaian was especially wasteful in possession as he gave away the ball on numerous occasions and seemed to shoot every time he had the ball in the opposition half. Benitez for all his tactical nous failed to pick up on these rather obvious drawbacks and allowed things to continue as they were with regrettable consequences. Biabiany who should have been ideally helping out Maicon on that right flank particularly as he was Inter’s fastest player was camped in the Tottenham half. The same could also be said of Pandev who was preferred over Countinho by the Spanish coach.
However it was only Sneijder and Eto’o trying to drag Inter forward and the lack of options around them invariably saw them lose the ball in the final third. A couple of hopeful shots were all the Nerazzurri managed before falling behind to Rafael Van Der Vaart’s goal. Sneijder was denied by ex-Milan keeper Carlo Cudicini on the stroke of half time and one expected the ‘real Inter’ to show up on the other side of the break. However, the team continued in the same vein and Bale setup Peter Crouch for the second goal and Roman Pavulychenko for the third in identical fashion either side of a Samuel Eto’o strike that gave Inter brief hope. Diego Milito made his return to the field as Rafa’s final throw of the dice and looked lively in the fifteen minutes he was given.
As the final whistle sounded at White Hart Lane, Benitez looked more like Liverpool’s manager last season than that of the reigning European champions. There are some serious issues that he needs to address in the next few weeks, the first of which is the midfield crisis enveloping the club. Inter are without three of their first choice midfielders and their absence is hurting the team. Muntari suffered a calf strain during the game and that leaves the Nerazzurri with only Obiorah Nwankwo as a traditional central midfielder. This is a surely a sign that the team need to invest in the January transfer window if they are not to pay the price of a long tiring World Cup year. Inter cannot do without Cambiasso, Stankovic, Thiago Motta and Mariga and hence need a backup plan in case of an emergency.
The game also displayed once more that motivation may be a problem for some of the players this year especially those who travelled to South Africa. Maicon and Lucio were superb in the last part of the previous season and it was the solidarity at the back that the Brazilians provided that helped Inter build a platform to their success. On Tuesday night both players looked disenchanted and rugged, the winter break could probably help Benitez rejuvenate them. Sneijder is also looking tired after a year that has already seen him play close to 50 games and the Dutchman admitted that Inter need to ‘rediscover their winning mentality’.
Inter are the reigning European champions and a performance like that on Tuesday night does the team no credit. The Nerazzurri must look to kick start their campaign once again when they welcome Bresica at the weekend and hope that their troubles are firmly behind them.