Rafael Benitez started his reign in charge of the Nerazzurri with a 3-1 victory over Roma in the Italian Super Cup on Saturday. This trophy is the first of a possible six that Inter can win over the course of the season with the European Super Cup, the World Club Cup, Serie A, the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Champions League all still to play for. Benitez will be quick to point out that his predecessor lost this fixture last year with a 2-1 defeat to Lazio in China.
Inter lined up in familiar fashion with Julio Cesar starting in goal with a back four of Douglas Maicon, Lucio, Walter Samuel and Christian Chivu in front of him. The two holding midfielders, Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso, played just behind the superlative Wesley Sneijder, whilst the front three saw Samuel Eto and Goran Pandev flank the prolific Diego Milito. It was wise of Benitez not to tinker too much with the side that had been so dominant last season and this showed quite clearly, as Sneijder looked impressive from the start, creating early chances and getting Inter into their rhythm. However, it was John Arne Riise who gave the Roman side the lead, with a first time shot 21 minutes into the match. This, then, saw the Giallorossi get the upper hand and saw a good period of pressure. There were brief exchanges between the sides, before Pandev pounced on a Mirko Vucinic error to level the game. The second half saw Inter revitalized and it was left to Samuel Eto’s cool disposition and clinical ability to secure a 3-1 win with two good finishes.
Rafael Benitez wasted no time in presenting this to the Press as the first of many victories as if clearly determined to outshine Mourinho. He was fully aware he should not take too much credit for this achievement, acknowledging how this was still Mourinho’s team: “It’s the first official trophy Inter have won in this new season. The Coach didn’t win it but the club and the players who have played very well, as did the fans who constantly support the team,” he demurred. With many important competitions still to come, he expressed optimism over the chance of more success in the next few weeks, adding: “Mourinho forged a competitive team and won titles, and the players know that inevitably comparisons will be made, but they also realise the future is a new stage, a new Coach and the possibility for all of them to triumph again.” The Spanish tactician seemed keen throughout the interview to credit the team’s attacking prowess, particularly focusing on the importance of scoring three goals: could this have been a swipe at his predecessor and the lack of flair?
The attention now moves to the European Super Cup that will be played on Friday night in Monaco in the Stade Louis II. After winning the treble last season, the view in the Inter camp is that they cannot take their foot off the gas for one moment in the belief that the obsession currently developing about winning everything may accomplish a great deal more than to simply keep a run going: the idea could be that of creating a new ethos for teams of the future. This however, will not be achieved without hard work and the Nerazzurri players are due back for a morning training session on 24 August, leaving ample time to prepare for the clash with Atlético. President Moratti told the Inter channel: “It was yet another victory, but I can’t get too used to it and neither can the players. Behind every success, there is a great effort. We now challenge for the European Super Cup. It won’t be easy, because Atletico Madrid are a very difficult side to face.”
Should Inter beat their Spanish opposition this weekend, it will certainly send out a warning shot to any pretenders to Inter’s throne. Whilst other Serie A teams may have strengthened, most will take time to gel whereas Inter already have a team of proven winners, long grown accustomed to high pressure competitive games by the time the season starts on Monday night at Bologna. There is no doubt, Inter have hit the ground running. Now, they just have to make sure they do not trip.