Last December, Rafa Benitez had been sacked after delivering two cups in the space of six months. It was always going to be hard for the Spaniard to follow up Jose Mourinho’s act and it proved to be a little bit too hard for Benitez as Massimo Moratti ordered him to pack his bags following poor performances in Serie A and numerous fall outs with players and also with Moratti himself.
A new era dawned when Leonardo was appointed the new coach of Inter Milan amidst a lot of speculation and controversy in December. A lot of questions were raised at the appointment of the Brazilian coach, Was he the right person to spur on an otherwise unmotivated ‘group of individuals’? Would he be an improvement over Rafa Benitez? What would he bring to the table that would make Inter reach the glorious heights of last season? and perhaps most importantly, Was he the right man for Inter?
Last night’s hard fought victory over Cesena would go a long way in convincing the Nerazzurri faithful that Leonardo is in fact the right man to lead Inter to another successful year. Inter have won their last 5 games under the Brazilian and are back on the right track towards scudetto glory. They’ve managed to cut down the defecit on leaders and local rivals A.C. Milan to 6 points with a game in hand. So what exactly has advocated such a good run of form for Leonardo’s Inter?
To start off, the players are displaying the kind of hunger and determination that was influential to their treble winning season. Leonardo has managed to bring out the best in players like Goran Pandev, Maicon and Diego Milito who have contributed more under the Brazilian in the few games he has been incharge then his predecessor. His man-management skills are praiseworthy, captain and inspirational figure Javier Zanetti has claimed that Leonardo has instilled a new found enthusiasm within the players, something which Benitez failed to do. His relationship with his players is on display on the field with the team playing for each other and the manager. With victories comes confidence, which is visibly flowing through the Inter players in abundance at this moment.
‘Leo’ has given the players the freedom on the pitch which will be a welcome factor considering the strict tactical restrictions the players had to endure under Mourinho and recently Benitez. Players like Thiago Motta and Esteban Cambiasso have bombarded forward to join the attack, something Benitez would often disapprove of and have managed to get their names on the score-sheet. The team look relaxed and comfortable, they enjoy the game and don’t take upon unnecessary pressure. Leonardo has managed to inculcate a winning mentality, a habit which ‘makes’ champions, who are always ready to ‘fight for every ball’ throughout the match.
Maicon is a rejuvenated player under the Brazilian now. His long bursting runs up and down the right flank were his trademark before Benitez took over the manager’s job. His performances under the Spaniard had taken a turn for the worst as his impact on the game was almost negligible. However, he is on his way back to his very best, recently providing a gem of a cross for Cristian Chivu’s winner in Inter’s last game.
Last season’s top scorer for Inter Milan, Diego Milito showed signs of unhappiness under Benitez as he criticised the former Liverpool manager’s man management skills, saying he wasn’t feeling trusted by Benitez. Since then, he has returned back to his poaching best and looks at ease, oozing with confidence under Leonardo.
Leonardo has often switched between a 4-3-3 formation and a 4-3-1-2 formation but he has managed to get the best out of the team. His team no longer hold a high defensive line like they did under Benitez which made them more prone to counter-attacks. The team play with much more fluidity and are often fearless in attack contrary to the cautionary approach employed by Benitez which made them boring to watch.
Leonardo’s biggest test will be the Champions League game against Bayern Munich as he is not the most experienced manager in Europe’s elite competition and was knocked out at this very stage last season by Manchester United when he was incharge of neighbours A.C. Milan.
It is still a bit too early to predict how much success Leo’s Inter can achieve but the early signs indicate they’re back on the right track and are breathing down A.C. Milan’s neck in the scudetto race. There is an air of optimism around the Appiano Gentile and the Inter fans are convinced their ”new team” this season can replicate the success they received under the ‘Special One’ Jose Mourinho.