Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

Adam Digby On November - 9 - 2010

Rafael Benitez And Inter: Diesel In A Petrol Engine?

We’ve all seen it at petrol stations across the world. The driver sat with their forehead resting on the wheel, realising the costly & potentially ruinous mistake they have just made. Perhaps Massimo Moratti is feeling that way about his Inter side right now, although given some of his appointments in the past, perhaps not.

But truth is plain for all to see, the previously unstoppable machine that was Inter under Jose Mourinho is stuttering & failing to spark into life, looking for all the world like its running on the wrong fuel. While the former Liverpool coach has his critics he has an impressive enough record to warrant an important club like Inter considering him, but to follow the Portuguese was never the right move given their history.

Clough & Revie for the 21st Century?

Before the season began I made the analogy that this was like appointing Don Revie to replace Brian Clough, a reversal of the situation that forms the basis of “The Damned United”. Filling the void left by a Mourinho departure has proven difficult at Porto & Chelsea, but Moratti compounded his own clubs misery by charging that task to a man who’s ego would never allow him to just keep the engine ticking over, to continue from last season without making changes.

Winning the treble is the ultimate dream of any serious club, & one that Inter achieved last year thanks in no small part to the drive, intelligence & tactical ingenuity of the self-proclaimed Special One. He took advantage of a veteran team, sat deep & played on the counter to devastating effect. This defence-first approach served him well & not only exploited the weaknesses of great teams like Barcelona, Bayern Munchen & Chelsea, but shielded the flaws of his own side.

That aging defence, built on the impressive Lucio & Walter Samuel were usually happy to defend the edge of their own area, allowing play to evolve in front of them with no space behind, letting the two players read the game as they do so well. Samuel Eto’o & Goran Pandev were asked to sacrifice themselves to protect the flanks, which they were happy to do, a move attributed to Mourinho’s widely applauded & excellent man-management.

In attack the skill & vision of Wesley Sneijder helped both the Dutch midfielder & Diego Milito to enjoy perhaps their finest seasons, with both players nominated for countless awards & the Argentine striker second in the league scoring charts. Every department played in a way that suited the personnel available, despite the club not signing too many players since the departure of Roberto Mancini.

Average positions of Inter under Mourinho. Note Chivu, Samuel & Lucio looking more like a back three with Maicon & Pandev almost as wingbacks.

Benitez came in this summer & immediately began to ring the changes. He implemented a pressing style similar to that employed by Sacchi’s teams, a coach much admired by the ex Valencia man, who spent time at Milanello studying that dominating side at close quarters in the early 90′s. Not long after arriving he made a statement that eerily echoed that infamous Clough-Revie TV interview saying;

“Mourinho has done a great job here, but I’m different. I like to win, but to play well if it’s possible. My objective is to keep a winning mentality but play better football”

Clearly not a believer in the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it” Benitez reconstructed Inter in his own style, moving the defensive line far higher & implementing his usual 4-2-3-1 set up. This means those central defenders are no longer reading the game ahead of them & adjusting, they are constantly forced to turn & chase back, a trend that suits neither man.

The removal of the shield in front of them has meant greater use of Chivu & Maicon as orthodox fullbacks, again exposing the flaws in both. Maicon was shown up by Gareth Bale of Tottenham last week - a game expertly assessed by - with no man ahead of him to help protect & Lucio far too high up the pitch to give him time to cover across.

Last months Derby d’Italia saw the same happen to Chivu against Milos Krasic, 45 minutes the Romanian will not forget. Seeing him lambast Benitez on numerous occasions this season over a lack of protection shows just how much this shift has affected the team. Benitez, often lauded as a master tactician, seems at a loss to arrest this slide, which is a real cause for concern.

Much like Clough at Leeds or diesel in a petrol engine this simply will not work. The problem grows ever worse, with the side currently being carried along on the goals of Samuel Eto’o, but his scoring streak will not last. With the Club World Cup coming up the fixture backlog will grow, & an old team looking every year of its age could well do without the distraction.

Sneijder, Milito, Pandev & Lucio look shadows of the men that bestrode Europe last season, & only one man can take responsibility for that. With fans leaving messages of love at the San Siro for Mourinho he clearly does not have the popular vote, nor can he cite boardroom disruption for the teams troubles, at Inter Rafael Benitez was given ideal conditions to work in. His vanity prevents him returning the team to the style that served it so well &, as a man who’s fortune lies in oil, Massimo Moratti knows all too well that to prevent lasting damage it will soon be time to flush the pipes.

Adam Digby writes the Il Tifosi blog & is a regular contributor at Beyond The Pitch

  • Thierry

    This is a very bias article, Rafa has not done anything bad do far and inter is still a winning team. No doubt Mou had his success but they play complete diff style. Rafa has had some bad luck with injuries so pls before u draw ur bias conclusion wait till the end of the league

    • Adam Digby

      But you miss the whole point of the article. Not criticising Benitez, but Moratti who should never have chosen such an ego driven replacement. All this team needed was a steady hand to keep things going in the same direction. Instead he tears up a treble winning blue print. Old, experienced teams don’t need change, they need continuity, & breaking that winning formula showed a lack of self-belief.

      • ade

        I have to admit, i do dislike Benitez! he is a empty vessel (pun intended).

        Benitez is too arrogant to know it is time to wipe his own a.s.s. It is ironic that a man they claim is a top tactician does not understand an important rule in management: “recognize your limitations.” Rather than playing to the strengths of the players he has, he is forcing them to play to his own “strengths.” (or lack thereof). this of course magnifies the weaknesses of his squad.

        It is also interesting to see how he has destroyed the magnificent team spirit of the Inter of last season. Players are arguing amongst each other, and others (Chivu and Maicon) are shouting at Benitez from the pitch!

        Moratti was angry “Mourinho walked out on him.” perhaps that’s the reason he hired Benitez (a man Mourinho dislikes) to “get back at Mourinho?”

  • maduka G

    No matter the argument any one may advance, Rafa Benitez remains a master tactician.Any man who cannot show his identity is not fit to live. Mourinho is good but his tactics is boring.Rafa plays a very robust and spacious football. The challenge he has is that the present crop of intermilan players will not suit his pattern because age is no longer on their side. Consequently, their flexibility is impaired.If Rafa can find youthful and skilful players, inter will become the darling of everyone again.

    • Adam Digby

      Surely if Benitez is a “master tactician” he should be the one to adapt? How can you call the players “impaired” when they just one the treble? Change them for young players? This is a team at its absolute peak & the total inflexibility of the coach to adapt is killing their prospects right now.

      • ade

        Maduka, you are clearly a Benitez fan, but atleast you have to be honest with yourself. Benitez had won NOTHING in 4 years, until Mourinho gave him a gift (Italian super cup). Benitez also threw away the European Super Cup against Atletico (a team Mourinho’s madrid “strolled” by last weekend).

        P.s - I also see your little uninformed comment: “Mourinho is good but his tactics is boring.” Mourinho is boring because you watch his teams play? or because you just want to repeat what you have heard? before you embarrass yourself, I suggest you watch Real Madrid play.

  • maduka G

    I agree that inter is at its peak.Benitez is not Mourinho AND Mourinho is not Benitez. Two great guys, no doubt.Agree that Benitez has taken over one of——-if not, the most difficult coaching job for now.You CANNOT STEP INTO THE SAME RIVER twice.Ageing players do not suit Rafas free -flowing tactics. Rafa will win , not necessarily by playing the Mourinhos tactics.He can win by showing a fresh identity and with his kind of playres.I am not holding brief for him,but watch him.

  • Walker

    Hey, love the title, hilarious! (I might have replaced petrol with jet)

  • maduka G

    Ade, why are you behaving like a typical Nigerian? I only expressed a personal opinion that mourinho’s tactics is boring and you have decided to take it very personal.I can intuit you are schooled, and perhaps exposed. If I have touched your idol, there is a more polite way of defending him rather than insulting me. Afterall, I am entitled to my opinion just like you are to yours.
    Much as I understand that football is all about winning, I also watch it to get entertained. This is the more reason why I personally prefer Benitez to Mourinho in terms of tactics. In terms of personality, I love both men.
    Ade,when next you must post a comment, remember the words of Plato:”A wise man speaks because he has something to say;a fool because he has to say something”.

    • ade

      Have you watched Real Madrid play this season? Did you also watch FC Porto play betweeen 2002-2004?

      Its quite interesting that you think Benitez play attractive football. You actually mean, sh1t-on-a-stick Benitez? LOL.

      • ade

        Football is a great game. However, the worst thing about football fans is that 99% of them know nothing about the game. Maduka, you should educate yourself about the game. it will do you, and most importantly us, a lot of good.

  • kat

    mention mourinho and everyone comes out swinging. but you got to hand it to the man- he is no DINOSAUR. he evolves. he does not go to a team and start dictating right away. he does, but only after assessing the strength and the weaknesses. one can note this by the playing styles of porto, chelsea, inter and now madrid. the people who say he is boring and defensive, have definitely not watched his porto or the present madrid. also one should note that these are 4 different teams in 4 different leagues with 4 different styles of play. this is why so far no 1 manager has won the champions’s league or equivalent with 3 or more different leagues. benitez won while in spain and england, but nothing for the past 4 years. the season is still young and things could turn out different for inter. but they just won the treble. so the thing about an aging team does not hold up.
    another point normally made is he chooses only teams who can sign big. he does and chelsea signed big, but all his newer signings have been smart. at inter ibra paid for all his new signings. at madrid, di maria was the most xpensive. also with the new rules set by uefa, the days of the big signings may be over.

    one can be technically gifted or the strongest, but what is the point if one is not smart? evolution is the key as the dinosaur would love to tell you.

    also i would not go on about somebody being a nigerian. just shows a raw nerve has been touched.

    • ade

      Thanks Kat! I find it very interesting when many managers go “abroad” and embarrass themselves because they find it difficult to evolve. They cant adapt! They want to play the same kind of football in every single match, or under every single circumstance. Mourinho played football @ porto the portuguese way and won everything; he went to chelsea and played football the English way, and won, went to Inter and played football the Italian way and won everything; he is now at Madrid and is playing football the spanish way and his team has scored the most goals in all of Europe…humiliated Milan and Ajax…

      Yesterday, Madrid recorded the highest attendance in this round of the Copa Del Rey @ the bernabeu (79,000 +). FC Barcelona, the second highest attendance, only recorded 38,000 + @ the Camp Nou. Clearly, Madrid fans cannot wait to go to the Bernabeu and BE ENTERTAINED!

      Maduka, like I said, educate yourself and stop embarrassing yourself. Thanks

  • Gavin Smith

    Wait a minute……aren’t Inter only 3 points from the top of Serie A???

    I’d say that’s not bad going considering the summer upheaval, the injury issues and the change in tactics.

    As for playing to the strengths of his players, has nobody seen that Inter have the best defensive record in Serie A? and Eto’o is in the form of his career due to not been asked to ‘cover the flanks’.

    The OP obviously has something against Benitez, which from what I can see of the league tables and the matches I have seen them play this season can only be personal against the manager.

  • Walker

    just noticed some love still exists for Rafa on the Liverpool fans chatboard under “Past Manager Watch”

    I’d say this post stirred up a hornet’s nest. With the draw result today against Lecce, the noose is getting tighter for Rafa and with the Milan derby next up the scudetto race keeps getting more interesting especially after their city rivals just went top with matchday 11 win over Palermo…

  • Pontremoli

    This is a good blog message, I will keep the post in my mind. If you can add more video and pictures can be much better. Because they help much clear understanding. :) thanks Pontremoli.

  • ade

    LOL…MADUKA! where are you? hahahahaha

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