x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Three points the perfect medicine for Rafa

These days almost every match represents some sort of judgement day for Benitez, and that will continue to be the case until at least the end of the Club World Cup.

Massimo Moratti, the president of Inter Milan, was under the weather. Feverish, with symptoms of flu, he could not attend the early Sunday kick-off at San Siro.

That may have been a minor relief to Rafa Benitez, Inter's head coach. Though Moratti would probably have left his guillotine at home, given that Inter had won against Twente Enschede in the Champions League four days earlier, these days almost every match represents some sort of judgement day for Benitez, and that will continue to be the case until at least the end of the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi on December 18.

The victory against Twente marked Inter's first win since October; the feverish 5-2 lunch-time win against Parma was their first triumph in Serie A in five matches.

Quite whether this ushers in the turnaround that Benitez had been seeking, if it generates enough momentum, as the Spaniard suggested, "to put us back in contention" in a title race where Inter trail leaders AC Milan by seven points, remains to be seen.

Inter still look fragile, but at least Benitez has the posture now of a man not entirely convinced the rest of the world is against him. Not only did his defending Serie A champions record a thumping victory, their immediate rivals in the top third of the table mostly slowed up: AC Milan drew, Lazio gained a point, ditto Juventus. Roma and Napoli both lost.

Inter remain fifth, and despite conceding two goals to Parma's Hernan Crespo, have the meanest defence in the division. Not that you would credit it, watching the slapstick moment in which both Lucio and Marco Materazzi were at fault for Crespo's second.

"It was a bit of crazy game," said Benitez of a match in which five goals were scored in the first 35 minutes. "But what we did show was some character."

The character of Inter, and indeed their head coach, had been under scrutiny. Over the weekend Benitez found himself in another indirect debate with his predecessor, Jose Mourinho, about the legacy Mourinho left at Inter in the wake of the unprecedented treble of trophies in 2009/10.

Benitez worried, he let on privately almost as soon as he arrived in Milan in the summer, about the physical condition of the players. He found them, rather like Moratti yesterday, in a weakened, wearied state after all their exertions. And once the results began to go badly, Benitez began to voice his concerns.

On Saturday, he heard a sharp response from one Rui Faria, who was Mourinho's assistant, with a special remit for fitness, at Inter. Rui Faria told Gazzetta dello Sport: "There is only thing that is exhausted at Inter. The club has a fantastic set of players and a first-class medical department. The only thing that has changed is the person responsible for the first team."

Benitez was minded, after beating Parma, to leave that brewing row for another day. He could have pointed out, that for all that he is more dependent than he would have liked on the same squad he inherited from Mourinho - Benitez wanted to recruit more players in July, - his own tweaks and adjustments had been shown in a good light.

Sunday's was a win achieved in the absence of several senior players: Samuel Eto'o served the first game of a three-match ban, and injury kept out Walter Samuel, Diego Milito, Christian Chivu and Julio Cesar.

Although Dejan Stankovic's hat-trick captured most headlines, the performance of Jonathan Biabany, the 22-year-old French midfielder, also caught the eye. Biabany, promoted by Benitez to the first team after spending last season on loan at Parma, set up three of the goals. Stankovic called the win "like a dose of penicillin". The poorly Moratti would have appreciated that.

sports@thenational.ae