Rafa looks to younger limbs as Inter's injury problems mount

Rafa Benitez and Massimo Moratti must have had a long look at each other after Inter’s draw with Brescia on Saturday and pondered where it was all going wrong for the defending champions.

The following day that young rebel Mario Balotelli was scoring twice for his new club Manchester City, while the Nerazzurri were counting the length of their injury list. Walter Samuel was the latest to collapse in a heap and it looks as if the central defender’s season is over with ligament damage to his knee.

It was damp old evening at the San Siro and Inter were off-colour from the start. Only Samuel Eto’o demonstrated anything in the way of a positive attitude against well-organised but ultimately beatable opponents who were allowed to grow in confidence after taking an early lead.

Benitez may not be ‘special’ like Jose Mourinho, but even the Portuguese would find it difficult to get anything out of a side decimated by so many injuries to key players.

Douglas Maicon’s troublesome hamstring finally gave in at the weekend and the full-back joined Esteban Cambiasso, Thiago Motta, Julio Cesar and Sulley Muntari in the treatment room nursing a range of muscle strains.

Athletic trainer Paco De Miguel looks set to be working overtime to get players fit again and he has defended claims that his preparations had caused some of the injuries, maintaining he had changed little from the previous regime and was working towards ensuring the players stayed in shape over the hump of the season without tiring their limbs.

Youngsters on the whole do not tire as much as the more mature players, so Benitez and his staff will have to work on fine-tuning the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Joel Obi and the speedy Jonathan Biabiany over a shorter period, with nearly two months still standing between them and the January transfer window.

Inter will then, by all accounts, buy up the outstanding fifty per cent of Andrea Ranocchia’s contract from Genoa - worth something in the region of €10 million - thus not breaking the bank for a new central defender.

There is a round of mid-week games coming up and the defending champions will leave dull, cold Milan for the relatively benign climes of Lecce.

However, it is the weekend derby that will be on their minds, so Wesley Sneijder will sit out, having become all light-headed in the dressing room at the weekend which meant he couldn’t take the pitch for the second half.

The San Siro showdown will not be for the faint-hearted – not with AC Milan suddenly becoming the macho side in the city.

Having beaten Bari, the Rossoneri will want to push on this week against Palermo, although Massimiliano Allegri is finding it difficult to keep some of his players, who feel they know more than the coach, in check.

Rino Gattuso tore into the team’s tactics after conceding the last-gasp equaliser to Real Madrid in the Champions League which just about forced Allegri to drop Ronaldinho and play Rino, Massimo Ambrosini and Mathieu Flamini at the base of the midfield against Bari.

It ultimately made little difference as the team still conceded two goals, and Allegri didn’t help his cause by refusing to bend to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s veiled demands that he preferred playing upfront with Filippo Inzaghi - by fielding Robinho instead.

Pippo was left to sulk on the bench and in a show of 37-year-old petulance threatened to leave in January alluding to “a couple of interesting offers.”

No doubt the moody vet will start against Palermo, but Ibra needs a slap on the wrist; so just to annoy both of them the Swede could well be left on the bench.

The club have made great efforts to play down the bust-up - for that’s what it apparently was -between Ibra and the man mountain Oguchi Onyewu in training last week with photos surfacing of the pair really going at it after the stroppy Swede had dived into a late challenge on the American defender.

Insiders have claimed there pair didn’t “kiss and make up” and only performed the most reluctant of handshakes – and in a scene familiar to any prison drama, the Brazilian clique have taken the big Yank under their collective wing, although this may ultimately be for Ibra’s protection as much as anything else...

However, as long has the Rossoneri are pushing for top spot and can overcome Inter at the weekend the team will continue to present a united front.

While the Milanese giants play make or break-up, Lazio hang on to top spot despite their derby defeat and have a chance to get back on track against struggling Cesena. Joint-fourth Juventus – Happy Birthday, Alex – and Napoli are on the road at feisty Brescia and Cagliari, respectively which leaves AS Roma the most likely to profit as they face Fiorentina at home.