Have Inter reached tipping point under Rafa Benitez?

There’s no hiding from it, Inter are suffering their worst form in almost half a decade. The last seven games in particular under Rafa Benitez’s wayward stewardship have been spectacularly bad. With losses to Genoa, Milan, Chievo and Tottenham and draws to Lecce, Brescia and Sampdoria, it’s time to ask the question: is this finally the end of the nerazzuri’s remarkable run of success?
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Of all the poor performances Inter fans have had to endure in recent weeks, none will sting more than their clanging defeat in the derby della madoninna. Looking at that game in microcosm, it’s possible to see numerous strategic curiosities that might explain the team’s wildly erratic string of performances thus far.
Objectively, some of the Spaniard’s decisions in this important game were totally bizarre. To begin with, handing a start to 37-year-old Marco Materazzi in such a crucial tie is baffling. The penalty he gave away against Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the rusty tackle of a typically pace-stripped player. Yes, the manager had injuries to contend with, but surely any one of Javier Zanetti, Cristian Chivu and Davide Santon would have been a more athletic opponent to the in-form Swede than the unpredictable, clumsy veteran.
But its not just Materazzi who’s being meddled with, Benitez has also started tinkering with Wesley Sneijder – a player who, until recently, was one of the most content and productive on the Peninsula. Against Milan (and on Sunday, against Chievo), Sneijder has evidently been asked to abandon his devastating trequartista role and play more as a central midfielder. Even the most ardent supporters of Benitez must scratch their heads over such a seemingly counterproductive initiative. This decision to reduce the Dutchman’s attacking influence becomes curioser still considering that Diego Milito may need his opportunities spoon-fed this season.
But let’s not be utterly disparaging. Benitez has taken on the hardest job in football, contending with a unique set of problems. Not only are Inter treble winners, but they were Jose Mourinho’s treble winners. Benitez had to stamp his authority on the team somehow and, theoretically, his decisions have been intelligent, if ineffective.
For instance, the high-defensive line the coach is trying to enforce should do away with the extremely effective but dull counter-attacking style of Mourinho and produce a more entertaining passing game. Problem is, his well-drilled unit appears uncomfortable changing styles after finally discovering something that works. Grudgingly, Inter’s miserly players are now taking more risks, but this more cavalier approach has brought with it litany of mistakes in crucial areas.
Of course, it doesn’t help that many of the squad are the wrong-side of 30, with the combined age of Sunday’s back four a dusty old 122. With that in mind, Benitez has introduced a number of young players to the team. Coutinho has made a great impression. Davide Santon has already received more playing time than he has in seasons past, (although recent displays suggest he hasn’t developed much). Jonathan Biabiany and Joel Obi have also made fairly regular, productive contributions.
Undoubtedly this injection of youth has added some vibrancy on the pitch. However, it has also, just as inevitably, unsettled the squad’s existing members. To strike the right balance, perhaps Benitez must limit his experimentation.
Ultimately, all great teams reach a tipping point, with age, managerial changes, or injuries – edging them off balance, and out of their winning stride. Internazionale are now a full nine points adrift and it seems they will only tilt back into contention if Benitez – so determined to do things differently – can provide enough weight in the right direction.

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