Europe, ItalyAdam DigbyComment

Has Rafa been found out?

Europe, ItalyAdam DigbyComment

While many observers are keen to see 'the special one' slip up, there really is no arguing with the season Inter enjoyed in 2009/10.  Benitez was never going to find Mourinho an easy act to follow, but has Rafa been found out?  Welcome to IBWM Adamo Digby.

Whilst it is relatively easy - not to mention enjoyable - to look at Internazionale and, as a Juventus fan, laugh long and loud at their woes since the departure of Jose Mourinho, taking a closer look at last seasons treble winners unearths a worrying trend.

Replacing the Portuguese with Rafael Benitez was considered ill fated from the outset due to the stubborn, abrasive nature of the former Anfield boss and his ego was always likely to prevent him merely allowing the treble winning side continue playing the same way they did under the Special One.

Last month I wrote that the Spaniards arrival was like pouring diesel into a petrol engine as his tactical changes had handicapped a team that played almost perfectly last season. Moving the defence so high up the pitch, in a move made seemingly for no other reason than to be different to Mourinho, was proof enough that his appointment was a mistake.

Since then however things have gone from bad to worse, with losses to Tottenham, Milan, Chievo and Lazio. Perhaps more than the defeats is the manner in which they were suffered. Benitez holds a lofty reputation as a master tactician, a belief born perhaps in Istanbul when his Liverpool team came from behind to defeat Milan on penalties. Given recent events however, the reason for that turnaround seems more and more to be the result of a Milan collapse than any Rafa-inspired changes. While his lack of man-management skills and motivational skills is widely accepted, since moving to Italy his supposed gift for tactical intelligence is being exposed almost every week.

Putting aside the Chievo loss, which was simply a flat, uninspired and ultimately disappointing performance, it is quite easy to make a case that the other three defeats have been a direct result of Benitez being out-thought and out-coached by his opposite number.

That one of those losses was to the self-professed hater of tactics Harry Redknapp is especially ironic. Gareth Bale was outstanding, but the failure of Benitez to cultivate a plan to stop the Welshman smacks of poor planning. His supposed attention-to-detail approach surely would have noticed a man who tore into his aging defence in the first tie between the teams, given that it was at San Siro less than two weeks before.

As the ever-brilliant highlighted in reviewing that game under Mourinho, Javier Zanetti would have covered across and back, allowing Maicon to play his normal attacking game. But of course aping his predecessor is something he simply will not do, even when it is the most obvious solution to his problems.

Next came the Milan derby, where Inter’s performance was neatly summarized by their President Massimo Moratti; "It doesn’t seem like we suffered against Milan’s play. The problem was that we actually didn’t play, a different thing entirely and much more grave." Inter played a 4-3-1-2 formation, mirroring Milan and forgoing width in order to compete in the central areas where the Rossoneri are strongest.

In this system, the fullbacks are clearly vital, being that they are the only wide players, putting the onus on them to get forward as often as possible. So whom did Benitez select for these two roles in such an important game? Two central defenders of course, 34 year old Ivan Cordoba and Cristian Chivu (30). Milan went down to ten men with over 30 minutes remaining and still he could not provide a system to overcome their neighbours. Milan chose to drop Andrea Pirlo and play a different style which Benitez never countered, and the main concern over their new coach, Massimiliano Allegri, was his lack of tactical intelligence and experience.

Then on Friday came the latest defeat at the hands of Lazio, whose main weapon was the deployment of Mauro Zarate high up the pitch against Inter youngster Felice Natalino. It took until going 0-2 behind for Benitez to switch his fullbacks over, a move countered by Lazio swapping flanks with their wingers. No shielding of his youth team player, no doubling up on the impressive Zarate and a completely unbalanced system once again showed the Inter boss lacking as his opposite number Edy Reja on the Lazio bench totally controlled the game.

Soon they head to Abu Dhabi for the Club World Cup, a competition that perhaps will decide the fate of the coach. Win and he may last the winter, lose and a new man may be in place to eat the Nerazzurri panettone this Christmas. Whatever happens in the Gulf state, the gaping chasm between the reputation and reality of Rafael Benitez has been well and truly exposed by the unforgiving Italian league.

You can follow Adamo on Twitter @Adz77