Inter limped to a 1-1 draw at Lecce on Wednesday evening in Serie A, more points dropped against a team they should be beating comfortably. This result came days after Brescia had frustrated the Nerazzurri at the Giuseppe Meazza, and with the Derby della Madonnina just around the corner the word ‘crisis’ is already being muttered in the bars and cafes of Milan.
Every crisis has a cause and it is this which President Massimo Moratti must seek out and eradicate if Inter are to have any serious chance of keeping their Serie A crown. In all situations like this it is the manager who fans first want to attribute blame to, so does Rafael Benitez have a case for the defence?
Benitez’s first argument is that his squad has been crippled by injuries. This is true to an extent as Diego Milito missed the early part of the season and many of his squad have also been on the sidelines at one time or another with minor knocks. Recently this has worsened and the Spaniard now has an injury list consisting of Walter Samuel (out for the season), Esteban Cambiasso, Julio Cesar, McDonald Mariga, Maicon, Thiago Motta and Sulley Muntari.
Dejan Stankovic has only just returned to full fitness and the Dutchman Wesley Sneijder was diagnosed with anaemia but is now fit to play. This is a serious problem for the Nerazzurri and an issue Moratti acknowledges:
“We are unable to compete at the same level at the moment as the other years because we have too many injuries,” the President commented.
“When there is a change of Coach and training methods, such accidents happen. We are looking at it and will try to avoid the same type of injuries.”
It’s a strange claim from Moratti considering none of the casualties resulted from the training ground. The injuries to Samuel, Maicon, Cesar, Stankovic and Muntari all happened on the pitch and Sneijder certainly did not contract anemia during a training session.
Benitez’s predecessor Jose Mourinho has not suffered the same problems at Real Madrid and his training methods have not injured nine of his first team players. Even when taking into account the injuries Inter have it should still be possible for them to dominate teams like Brescia and Lecce. Against Brescia at the Giuseppe Meazza, Inter had the lionshare of possession, the width and the pace to severely hurt their opposition. The problem lay in the negative mindset of the players directed from the touchline, something that appears to have swept through the team of late.
The line-up against Lecce featured, bar the missing Sneijder, an almost first-choice attacking midfield, plus the hungry and clinical Eto’o up front. On paper there was only going to be one winner, but it turned out to be another two points lost. So what’s going wrong?
Negativity is often misunderstood in football and confused with defensive tactics. Mourinho played defensive football with a miserly back four who did not concede, which provided the basis for a patient approach and the ability to be clinical at the vital moment to win the game.
This was tactical but what Benitez is guilty of is negativity. It is unrealistic to expect total football with a gung-ho approach but the trouble is the Spaniard is caught between the two styles. He finds himself in a position where he does not want to sit back, yet remains reluctant to let his team attack.
This is where the Nerazzurri find themselves today, being harnessed back while conceding sloppy goals. Benitez says this is bad luck, but luck has nothing to do with it. The facts are simple – Inter have picked up 10 points from the last seven games, while in the same period Milan have managed 18, Napoli and Roma 16, and Juventus and Lazio 15. Even more worryingly, Inter have only scored five goals during this time, and it would be even less without the brilliance of Eto’o.
The Nerazzurri have the derby looming over them this weekend and the outlook is not good. Cruelly perhaps, the one forecast capable of cheering up the faithful in the event of a loss is the possibility it may mean the end for Benitez.
What will his excuse be for a defeat this weekend? More bad luck? In this life you create your own luck, and Benitez cannot even create that.