Inter Milan President Massimo Moratti had called on his team to avoid another “load of cabbage” in the Champions League, but Tuesday’s defeat at Werder Bremen piled more pressure on the current Italian crop.
The holders, who had already qualified for the last 16, albeit unconvincingly, were embarrassed 3-0 by eliminated Werder, and now head to the Club World Cup in the UAE, desperate for success to give coach Rafael Benitez some respite.
“The Club World Cup is the aim. Inter's mentality will change. The players that are injured will return to play and it will be different,” Spaniard Benitez told reporters, having lost his seventh game of the season in all competitions.
"We played the game having already qualified for the next round. The match that was truly important was the one that we won at home to Twente [two weeks ago]. I played the youngsters at Werder and I believe that was the positive aspect of the game as we didn't want to risk losing a player to injury,” he added.
"I don't believe my future depends on that (Club World Cup). I hope the team does well as a team, then the individual quality may help but what is important is the team,” he concluded.
His nervous and disjointed Inter look a completely different side from the Jose Mourinho vintage team of 2009/10, which won the Serie A title, Champions League and Italian Cup and lost just seven games all season.
Injuries have robbed Benitez of a consistent lineup and formation and the Spaniard also fielded a second string side in Germany with qualification assured.
Last season’s top scorer Diego Milito could return for the Club World Cup after over a month out injured but even the Argentine looked off form earlier in the campaign and the purchase of a striker in January looks certain.
The Nerazzurri are fifth in Serie A after a 3-1 weekend defeat at Lazio left them 10 points behind leaders AC Milan and making a sixth successive scudetto start to look very unlikely.
Benitez struggled in his final season at English Premier League club Liverpool and his troubles have followed him to Italy.
Moratti, known for his lack of patience when things do not go Inter’s way, has backed Benitez but two defeats in a row have put the Spaniard on the back foot again.
The sunshine of Abu Dhabi at the World Club Cup may be a welcome break from Milan’s wintry temperatures, but for Benitez the heat is very much on.