Beleaguered Benitez given time to improve

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The Independent Football

Internazionale president Massimo Moratti has "full confidence" in Rafael Benitez amid speculation the Spanish coach could be on his way out of San Siro.

The European and Italian champions have managed only one win in five Serie A games and Sunday's 1-0 defeat to Milan left Inter six points behind their league-leading city rivals in the table, at fifth.

Moratti has however denied reports that he is considering a coaching change, telling Gazzetta dello Sport: "This is an invention and I've read it in the newspapers.

"We have chosen this project and it will go forward. I have full confidence in Benitez. That, however, does not mean that I can't be disappointed after Sunday's game, but this does not change the club thinks in any way."

Benitez replaced Jose Mourinho in the summer after the mercurial Portuguese led Inter to a treble of Champions League, Coppa Italia and Serie A prior to joining Real Madrid.

Inter face Chievo in Serie A this weekend looking to end a three-match winless run.

Trying to match Mourinho's charisma and last season's treble was always going to be tough for Benitez, but the Milan derby defeat and a raft of injuries have made the task even more daunting.

The Spaniard was never going to outdo the now Real Madrid coach in terms of quips, despite recent attempts with talk of priests, mountains of sugar and milk, but his tactical acumen was meant to be equal to if not better than the Portuguese.

However, Benitez was found wanting in Sunday's defeat by Milan. His decision to hand 37-year-old Marco Materazzi his first league appearance of the season backfired when the reserve defender upended former Inter striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic after five minutes and the Swede dispatched the penalty.

The new 4-3-2-1 formation also failed to work, with Inter barely having a shot, and injuries to Diego Milito and Materazzi – who went to hospital for checks after being kicked by Ibrahimovic – are limiting Benitez's options, despite their large squad.

"Marco is not a debutant, he is an experienced player but we have problems in defence. Without Walter Samuel [out for the season], we needed a player to mark Ibra," Benitez said.

"Marco made one mistake and then did his job. Today we did not play well. Last season this team won lots of games in the end because Milito scored lots of goals while now he has problems."

The coach, who left Liverpool in the close season after a woeful last campaign in the Premier League, made a rod for his own back in his pre-match news conference by saying that, with memories of their 3-1 humbling at Tottenham in the Champions League on 2 November still hurting, the derby would be a crucial game, putting extra pressure on his faltering players. The Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani also did not help by joking that a win by his side on Sunday would almost certainly seal their first scudetto since 2004.

Benitez would not have wanted to catch a glimpse of Moratti's face in the stands at full-time but the club owner is also under pressure from his side's fans for not bringing in new players and deciding to stick with the team which won a fifth straight league title last May.

The best teams have normally invested even when at the very top and Benitez's continued call for buys in January will almost certainly be heeded now.