Inter were defeated in the Derby della Madonnina on Sunday and in the process showed worrying signs of tactical confusion and a distant relationship with Rafael Benitez. Nerazzurri old boy Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the scourge of the Curva Nord as he slotted home an early penalty giving Milan a much needed boost in the race for the Scudetto.
In recent games Inter have been a shadow of their former selves and shown little comparison to the team that won a superb treble last season. There are many attributing factors for this – from the range of injuries to the mentality of the players. All of their problems were highlighted when they faced their city rivals in one of the most important games of the season.
Rafael Benitez has struggled tactically this season, his confirmation Inter would play attractive football seems nothing more than a jibe at his predecessor’s defensive yet successful approach to the game. Wanting to distance himself from his old rival Jose Mourinho, Benitez decided the best way to play was in a more dynamic way, but what he did not predict was his own inability to see this through. Now Benitez is maligned to revert back to the way they played last season and is instead caught in a tactical spider’s web that sees him to scared to commit players to attack whilst playing high defensive lines at the back.
The derby itself saw Benitez fall apart before the peninsula’s eyes as he entered this game with a new formation. It has to be said a derby of this magnitude is possibly not the place to be implementing untried tactics. However, 4-3-1-2 was the way in which the Nerazzurri set up with Samuel Eto’o and Diego Milito playing up front together, the line up did see Marco Matterazzi start at center back for his first start this season in the league. It was the high line and the aforementioned veteran’s lack of pace that resulted in him conceding the early penalty which Ibrahimovic gladly converted. Inter did not seem to believe they could win this game which, again, was a far cry from last season, the obvious lack of confidence seemed to stem from their uncomfortable tactics. Joel Obi in particular was looking lost in the middle of the field, he seemed to being asked to do a job almost alien to him and it showed. Samuel Eto’o and especially Diego Milito seemed to get no support at all from the midfield with Wesley Sneijder having to come too deep to pick up the ball. Milan to their credit always looked confident, composed and in the ascendancy whilst Inter continued to struggle, Joel Obi was replaced by Philippe Coutinho after sustaining an injury and Inter changed to a 4-2-3-1. This was even more ineffective as it gave less support and it was a wonder why Benitez did not revert to the 4-2-3-1 they are so used to playing with.
The cracks with Benitez had started to show from the first substitution, when he had asked Esteban Cambiasso to warm up; incredibly just before putting him on he changed his mind and put on Coutinho, a move which showed much indecision. This happened again when in the second half Davide Santon was stripped off and ready to come on before Benitez again changed his mind and went for Jonathan Biabiany, the question has to be asked about how sure he was of his own tactics.
Milan had gone down to ten men after Ignazio Abate was sent off, but the Nerazzurri did little to get back into the game. They had created little throughout, with Samuel Eto’o partly at fault early on as he continually drifted out to the left leaving Milito isolated. Dejan Stankovic and Christian Chivu had been Inter’s two players who could be happy with their performance, but all in all the players seemed detached from their manager and seemed almost leaderless at times.
Benitez chose to blame the defeat on the early penalty and the fitness of his players saying:“The penalty changed our game plan. We had intended to wait and create a bit of space behind their defence, but with Milan’s early goal we had to push forward more and it was tricky.” He also mused: “You can see that the team looks to Milito, Eto’o and Wesley Sneijder for ideas and they are not at the same fitness or form levels as last season.”
Massimo Moratti however, was less than impressed by his coach and stated that: “It doesn’t seem to me like we suffered against Milan’s play, the problem is that we actually didn’t play. It’s a different thing entirely and much more grave. I didn’t like anything. One can understand losing a derby, but this time I didn’t like the approach or the aftermath”
The Nerazzurri have to improve – tactically, mentally, physically and quickly. They are already slipping away from the top of the table and, although they will strengthen in January, the question Moratti will have to ask himself is whether he listens to his CEO Ernesto Paolillo and gives Benitez time or cuts his losses and finds a replacement.