From inter-regnum to Inter’s reign? Benitez and the burden of Mourinho’s legacy

Inter’s entertaining yet goalless draw against Juventus raised question marks over Rafa Benitez’s managerial style once again, although – sceptics aside – the team is showing real promise. As the Italian media were quick to pen down the worst start for the club for five years in the league, commentators and football pundits looked towards Benitez for answers: indeed, one could hardly help wondering right now what sort of predicament the Spaniard has landed himself in. Yet, for all the criticism directed at the Coach, the Nerazzurri still lie second in the table and top their Champions League group. It is often said that the most difficult task for a lover is to follow an incredibly perfect boyfriend or girlfriend. Jose Mourinho and Inter were the match made in heaven – the European glory and the treble were fruits of that love – but now they are parted. Consequently, Benitez now has his work cut out for him in order to prove himself if he does not simply want to be perceived as following in the shadows of his predecessor.

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Nonetheless, critics have seemed to miss one, very important detail this term and that is the change in Inter’s style of play. Even the staunchest of Inter fans will admit that the all-conquering team of last season was not exactly pleasant on the eyes. Mourinho’s men never seemed to play entertaining football and probably that’s why they still lack the respect they deserve around Europe. In every game Inter has played so far since the summer break, they have enjoyed more than 55% possession of the ball. The team has created more chances than it ever did before and, overall, it would not be wrong to suggest that the Nerazzurri are on track to being a more attacking side. The youngsters in the team, such as Philippe Coutinho and Jonathan Biabiany, have impressed in their time on the pitch and should mature as the season goes by. Inter’s problems currently lie upfront as the strikers who were so lethal last year have become strangely wasteful, despite the increased chances coming their way. Take Diego Milito: he is enduring one of the worst spells in his career, having missed a spate of opportunities the usually prolific goal-scorer would probably put away with consummate ease in normal circumstances. For a forward who is known for efficiency in front of goal, Milito’s performance level has been shocking of late.
Against Juventus, the Argentine had the chance to seal the game after being played through on goal by a wonderful dink pass from Esteban Cambiasso. The problem is he shot agonizingly wide of the target. Benitez may have to consider deploying him in a slightly different role or even benching him as he occupies the best suited position for Inter’s man-of-the-moment, Samuel Eto’o. With Biabiany’s early withdrawal through injury, the Cameroonian was again stuck to the left flank for the best part of the game on Sunday. Eto’o did create a couple of half chances on his own but a well- marshalled Juve midfield and defence neutralized his threat very well. In fact, the former Barcelona man hardly managed a couple of shots on goal.
It is only a matter of time before Benitez finds the best possible way to accommodate both Milito and Eto’o in this squad. He has tried a 4-3-1-2 formation before, in the second half against Palermo, for example, and the international break might give him the time he needs to work out a solution. It is also expected that in two weeks’ time many of the players missing through injury will return to play. Only then, presumably, will we be able to get a clearer picture about what Benitez can and cannot achieve.
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