21 November ~ Reports in the Italian media that Inter manager Rafa Benítez has three games to save his job should come as no surprise. With the shadow of José Mourinho still hanging over them Inter sit a modest fifth in Serie A, seven points off their tally at this stage last season. They are six points off top spot, with only two wins and five goals in eight games. To rub salt into the wound a derby defeat to AC Milan on Sunday ended an undefeated run of 46 games at home and saw Milan retain top spot.
Mourinho's success has ramped up expectations to hysterical levels and nothing short of the title will do now – it is what Inter fans have become accustomed to in the last five years as the club dominated Italian football with seven domestic trophies. However, having achieved a clean sweep of major trophies last term, Inter have looked blunt this season, scoring only 13 goals. Inevitably, the pressure has begun to build. The domestic press have begun sharpening their knives with Gazzetta dello Sport's headline proclaiming Benítez hangs by a thread, while Tuttosport reads Benítez: Now your days are numbered. Publicly, at least, owner Massimo Moratti has expressed patience in his manager, having recognised the difficulties he has faced.
A fortnight ago star player Wesley Sneijder collapsed at half-time of the 1-1 draw with struggling Brescia citing exhaustion. He was later diagnosed as anaemic and claimed the logical solution was to be given a period of extended rest. Sneijder played a major part in both Inter's treble win and Holland's journey to the World Cup final before getting married but, with the team's current plight, he is unlikely to be afforded the luxury of a break as the Nerazzuri are too reliant on his creativity to win games.
On top of Sneijder's problems Benítez has had to contend with an injury-list of mammoth proportions (including Júlio César, Maicon, Walter Samuel, Esteban Cambiasso and Sulley Muntari) as he attempts to remould and improve a side that has won it all. With Juventus and Milan slowly shaking off the hangover of the Calciopoli scandal, both sit ahead of Inter in Serie A for the first time in a long while. The Nerazzuri's spell as Italy's numero uno may be coming to an end. Michael Wade