Rafael Benitez is once again under pressure after his team crashed to a 3-1 defeat to Lazio in the Stadio Olimpico on Friday night. His team were outclassed tactically and looked a shadow of the team that lifted the Scudetto in May.
The Nerazzurri went to the capital hoping that they could not only bring back three points but also that they could produce a performance that would give them a spring board into the Club World Cup semi finals on December the 15th. Benitez continued to have injury problems before the game and this lead to Ivan Cordoba coming in at center back, Sulley Muntari starting on the left of midfield and youngster Felice Natalino starting at right back.
Lazio lined up with a 4-2-3-1formation and Rafael Benitez decided to counter this with a 4-3-2-1 line up that had Goran Pandev as the lone striker supported by Wesley Sneijder and Jonathan Biabiany. When the match kicked off however, problems immediately started to show in the Nerazzurri system and this was never more evident than when Lazio were on the offensive. As soon as Lazio pushed forward Benitez’s idea was that his team would defend with the four defenders and four midfielders with Biabiany dropping back from right wing to defend the right hand side. The problem with this is that Muntari on the left hand side of midfield was defending very deep almost at his starting position, whilst Biabiany was defending high up the pitch as he had to track back. This created a problem as there was no cohesive defensive line and this allowed Lazio access they should not have had.
The situation could have been worse for Inter as if Lazio had had another player marauding down the left as they did on the exposed right then they could have been in even more disarray, as it happened Stefano Mauri was playing very deep and did not porduce any real threat. Mauro Zarate on the other hand was having a field day as became the icing on the cake on what was a very impressive left hand side for Lazio. Biabiany had been doing his best to attack for the Nerazzurri but often found himself without support or being marked out the game by a tenacious double act of Stefan Radu and Matuzalem. When any of these players won the ball from him he often was left high up the pitch with a great deal of tracking back to do. This left the responsibility of stopping Zarate down to Inter’s young and vastly inexperienced Natalino. The boy who had been dragged out of Inter’s Primavera this year stood no chance and time after time Zarate made the youngster look very average.
The Argentine had already won a corner from which Lazio had converted before he managed to get on the score sheet himself. Hernanes perfectly weighted a delectable through ball which Zarate took well before lobbing Luca Castellazzi with considerable ease. Rafael Benitez’s plan was going out the window but still he did nothing to counter the now very apparent threat that was systematically destroying his team.
Hernanes had been in superb for all game and his constant movement made sure that neither Estaben Cambiasso nor Dejan Stankovic could break off to help out the beleaguered Natalino. He had created the goal for Zarate and looked dangerous throughout. His crowning moment came when Lazio, although dominant, had conceded to a Goran Pandev strike and now desperately needed the cushion of a two goal lead back. This was when Hernanaes chose his moment with superb free kick, even if aided by a deflection, to give Lazio all three points with two minutes to go.
Benitez once again showed his tactical naivety, this time when it was plain to see that this right back was in trouble all game yet all he did was switch Zanetti over to that position, Eddy Reja simply responded by switching Zarate. There are many questions that could be asked about his approach to the game and his decisions made in it, none more so than to ask, why was Davide Santon not introduced much sooner? Unfortunately for the Nerazzurri this is just a drop in the ocean of what so far has been a season on discontent. Whether training methods, tactical awareness, team selection, man management or poor tactical reactions, Rafael Benitez has a lot to answer for.