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Benitez struggles to fill Mourinho's shoes at Inter

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Phil Minshull | 15:00 UK time, Tuesday, 31 August 2010

I wonder what Rafa Benitez is thinking at this moment. Could it even be: "I wish I was back at Anfield?"

You never know. The English media gave him a tough time during his last six months on Merseyside, some would say deservedly so, but the Italian media have quickly picked up where their counterparts on the other side of Europe have left off.

The headline in Gazzetta dello Sport after their flaccid 2-0 loss in the UEFA Super Cup to Atletico Madrid was not the most vicious but perhaps was the most telling, 'InterRotta' - interrupted.

It was a nice play on words which suggested that the expectations that Benitez would carry straight on from where Jose Mourinho had left off a few months before, when Inter beat Bayern 2-0 in the Santiago Bernabeu stadium to lift Europe's top prize after a 45 year wait, had been cruelly dashed.

Rafael BenitezInter boss Rafael Benitez has had a tough start to life in Italy

Benitez did the honourable thing on Friday night in Monte Carlo and conceded that Atletico were the better team.

"Maybe our team weren't quite as fit as them and we weren't as intense as we could have been against a team that was physically stronger. It's clear that we will need some time to get the right mix: we need to keep some things the same as the way the team played in the past and change other things," said the Spaniard.

Nevertheless, his comments provoked some withering editorials in the Italian media as they put Inter under the microscope after their first serious game under Benitez.

Why weren't the team as fit as they should be, was one understandable question, although Benitez blamed the exertions of the World Cup.

Why are you trying to change things so radically Mr Benitez? was another media-driven debating point.

After all, as it was pointed out by all and sundry, you don't need to fix very much when something isn't broken and winning the Champions League as well as the domestic double last season suggested that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the playing staff.

Never mind, things can only get better, muttered most Inter fans, as an away trip to Bologna beckoned on Monday night which should have provided three relatively straightforward points to get their Serie A campaign off to a good start.

After all, Bologna finished just one place above the relegation zone last season, for the second year running, and are many pundits' tip to finish in the bottom three.

They also had a caretaker coach, Paolo Magnani, in charge after Franco Colomba was sacked on Sunday.

However, Inter's first domestic opponents had clearly not read the script on Monday night and their goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano celebrated his recent call up to the Azzuri ahead of their European Championship qualifiers by having one of the games of his life.

Despite Bologna playing well above themselves, it was also clear for all to see - despite Pandev and the evergreen Zanetti coming back into the starting line-up - that this was not the invigorating Inter of the recently-ended Mourinho era.

It prompted headlines similar to the one in the English online version of Gazzetta dello Sport: 'Inter, what's going on?"

Benitez has also been complaining that Inter have been too late signing reinforcements, which in turn has lead the Italian media to ask, whose fault is that?

All-in-all, the start of Rafa Benitez's tenure at Inter, as they go in search of a historic sixth consecutive title, has provoked more questions than answers, making lots of people wonder whether he will last the season in a league as notorious as Spain for its rapid turnover of coaches. The 20 Serie A clubs had 37 different coaches last season.

Meanwhile, at home in the San Siro, local rivals Milan started their season off in spectacular fashion with a 4-0 thrashing of Lecce.

Zlatan IbrahimovicZlatan Ibrahimovic has completed a loan move from Barcelona to AC Milan

Milan's Brazilian striker Alexandre Pato perhaps justified Benitez's comments about the detrimental effects of the World Cup, having not made Dunga's final squad, and had a great game as well as getting two goals.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has brought his unhappy year - well, six months, to be fair as he did start last season well before injuries and a loss of form set in - at Barcelona to an end and returned across the Mediterranean to his second home in Italy.

Depending on what reports you read, Ibrahimovic promised 25 or 30 goals when he pulled on a Milan shirt on Monday and the Rossoneri could be the team to make the pace this year.

Of course, Ibrahimovic's arrival could also have a destabilising effect as well as his talk sometimes overshadows his talent.

Serie A now takes a break for a week - I, for one, wished that the domestic league programme had started a week earlier so that clubs could get two weeks under their belt before the internationals - while the 2012 European Championship qualifiers get underway.

Italy are away in Estonia on Friday and then they face at home to Faroe Islands on Tuesday.

After the debacle in South Africa, misery compounded by the 1-0 defeat by Ivory Coast in a recent friendly, new coach Cesare Prandelli will be looking for some significant improvements from the Azzurri or he, like Benitez, might also be soon wishing he was somewhere else.

Please leave comments on this blog in the space below. Send other questions on European football to: I don't need your full address but please put the town/city and country where you come from.

More questions on Italian football and Serie A across the season, not just this week, would be welcome.

Q) Don't you think Real Madrid are flooding their squad with too many players? They have too many holding midfielders; both Diarras, Gago and the newly signed Khedira. Who do you think should be their first choice?

Ahad Shaukat , Karachi, Pakistan

A) Ross Spelman also asked a similar question. I don't think that the squad is being flooded with too many players. The signings are covering the departures and have ensured that Real have a strong and competitive 25-man squad. Are the right players being signed? Well that's another question. IMHO, there seems to be a surfeit of players now that can play down the left wing and not enough out-and-out strikers.

I would have also signed another defender, possibly a central defender, as well as just Carvalho. Holding midfielders? Maybe there is one too many. Lass Diarra would be my first choice to play alongside Xabi Alonso, and Khedira would be on the bench.

Q) I want to know why the German Bundesliga refuses to be more attractive to a larger audience because, for me, it has all it takes to supplant the Italian Serie A, and rival the English Premier League and Spain's Primera Liga.

Tolulope Omotunde, Lagos, Nigeria

A) This is an issue I've spoken about several times over the last couple of years on the BBC African Service's sports programme Fast Track. To be honest, I don't think the Bundesliga 'refuses' to reach a larger audience, I think it's just a question of market forces.

For whatever reason, at the moment, La Liga and Serie A are widely perceived to be more glamorous than the Bundesliga, possibly because of the higher concentrations of globally recognised names and regardless of how well those names are playing and also the quality of club football in Germany.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I've got a soft spot for the Bundesliga. However the clubs and German football authorities could perhaps, as their budgets are more tightly controlled than clubs in Spain and Italy, do more to market their game to English-speaking audiences in Africa and Asia. For example, many clubs have very little news or details about their activities in English on their web sites.


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