Rafael Benitez has stepped into a difficult situation at Internazionale. In truth, it shouldn’t be a surprise for the Spaniard; every time Jose Mourinho decides to leave a club, the next season that side has to face a number of problems in the post-Portuguese world. It happened at Porto in 2004; at Chelsea in 2007; and history is currently repeating itself in Italy.

Last year, Inter picked up the treble (Serie A, the Champions League and Coppa Italia) and Mourinho decided to pack his bags and head to Real Madrid.

The Portuguese was not kind to his successor at the San Siro, planting a bomb under Benitez’s efforts before the seat in his office was cold, stating that: “It will be very easy for Benitez this year. He arrived at Inter and he found the difficult job has been done in the last couple of years. Benitez can play in the European Super Cup, Italian Super Cup and the Club World Cup – thanks to me.” Indeed, it has been a tricky situation for the former Liverpool manager to inherit.

Benitez’s Inter began by winning the Italian Super Cup by beating Roma 3-1, but went on to lose the UEFA Super Cup in Monaco, going down 2-0 to Atletico Madrid. For those hoping Serie A would see Inter in imperious form, disappointment was just around the corner. A lacklustre performance saw the Nerazzurri draw their first match at Bologna, and though a win came in the next game at home to Udinese, it was a hard-won victory. Next up, the Champions League failed to provide Benitez with any respite, with only a 2-2 draw to show for a trip to Holland to face FC Twente – Inter’s football was also panned back home.

The majority of the Inter faithful are still dreaming of Mourinho, and hope the Portuguese will come back to the Nerazzurri hotseat soon. President Massimo Moratti, who was delighted with having the Champions League placed on his desk by Mourinho, is also believed to not be completely persuaded by Benitez. Moratti’s refusal to push hard for both Dirk Kuyt and Javier Mascherano, both the Spaniard’s favourites at Liverpool, in the summer, was widely taken as a sign that the jury remains out in the corridors of power.

Tactically, Benitez has placed his faith in the same 4-2-3-1 used by Mourinho last season, but wants to shift to a 4-3-1-2 as soon as possible. And this at least is a move the Spaniard should avoid criticism from the Portuguese’s advocates for, as the current Real Madrid boss employed the same formation, to especially good effect in the 2009/10 Milanese derbies, which Inter won both times (4-0 and 2-0).

Benitez can at least point to a number of reasons for a mixed start to his Inter reign. The Spaniard is unlucky to find himself with some key performers, such as Diego Milito, Wesley Sneijder and Christian Chivu, who are not yet as fit as they were last season. Milito especially, who enjoyed an exceptional 2009/10 campaign, scoring twice in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich, is in poor form: The Argentine missed a penalty against Atletico Madrid and notched an own goal against Twente.

Good news however, is arriving from Samuel Eto’o, who was praised for helping out defensively for Mourinho, and is also giving his all for Benitez. The Cameroonian is forever engaged in a type of total football, working constantly for the whole 90 minutes all over the pitch. Eto’o scored from the spot against Udinese, and grabbed a superb goal in Enschede that handed Benitez a vital point.

The Spaniard will also count on new recruits, like Kenyan McDonald Mariga (who arrived in January from Parma) and Frenchman Jonathan Biabiany, who turned out alongside Mariga last year in Emilia. Both though will need time to adapt to the Nerazzurri, but that may be the one thing they do not have, as Dejan Stankovic and Thiago Motta are both on the comeback trail.

For the 19-year-old Brazilian attacking midfielder Philippe Coutinho, the situation is different. Coutinho has shown impressive skills and a good attitude. Capable of playing behind the forwards, the former Vasco da Gama schemer can play alongside Sneijder or as a replacement for the Dutchman when required. Coutinho could be Benitez’s super-sub this season, and can be sure of a spot alongside the Spaniard for the majority of Inter’s games.

Rafael Benitez is entering an important phase as Inter coach. With meetings against quality Serie A outfits Palermo, Roma and Juventus, combined with a crucial home clash with Werder Bremen in the Champions League, Inter need not just to impress, but also to emerge in a strong position. If Benitez can steer them through, the future is his to shape.

In the meantime, president Moratti and the Nerazzurri faithful can’t quite stop dreaming of that self-confident Portuguese who has now made his home in Madrid.