FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — There are teams that are better than the sum of their parts. Right now Inter Miami is the complete opposite, and one of the many reasons for that is tactical issues.
Inter Miami suffered its latest defeat this past Saturday with an ugly 3-0 home loss to D.C. United, and one thing that the match at Drv Pnk Stadium shone a light on was head coach Phil Neville’s initial poor game plan and frequent strategic changes. Neville had the Herons come out in a new look via a 3-5-2 formation, and the team lasted just 21 minutes in it before conceding twice and reverting back to its more customary 4-2-3-1 setup.
While the idea behind the initial system change may have been to strengthen the midfield with more numbers to better “control” the match — something Neville had talked about in the lead-up to the game — it left swaths of spaces in behind on the flanks that D.C. United exploited early and often. Lewis Morgan and Joevin Jones were tasked with helping cover those wide areas, but neither of them are natural wingbacks and they struggled to perform the defensive functions of those roles.
That left the centerback trio of Nicolas Figal, Ryan Shawcross, and Christian Makoun to resolve plays often, but they had their own problems covering so much ground and in their 1-on-1 battles.
Another issue was that Neville seemed to instruct Shawcross, Figal, and goalkeeper John McCarthy to build out at times even under duress, but they had difficulties doing so against a D.C. United team that like several others in recent matches effectively high pressed Inter Miami. The opening goal in the 15th minute came when the visitors created a turnover high up the field as the South Florida side tried to start an attacking sequence.
“Teams at this moment in time are probably feeding off a bit off our nervousness, but I am a coach that wants to give the players confidence and bravery,” said Neville. “We had three or four different options tonight in terms of when they go on the pitch you have got to make the right decisions. If a team is pressing, you have got to play off the front. If a team is dropping off, you can play through the back.
“Tonight we did not make the right decisions at the right time, which created the nervousness, and I take responsibility for that. The buck stops with me in terms of the way that we want to play and the decisions and the way that we do it. I accept that, but also we have to be better. We have to be better.”
Calm and collected
— D.C. United (@dcunited) May 30, 2021
Neville made adjustments after Inter Miami went down 2-0 by switching to the 4-2-3-1 formation his team is more familiar with, a clear admission that his initial tactics and game plan did not work. Still, the improvements were marginal and Neville repeatedly tried changing things for much of the rest of the match in a desperate attempt to find a solution.
For instance, the Englishman inserted Brek Shea on the left wing at the start of the second half, but had the American and fellow wide attacker Morgan switch sides for a bit shortly thereafter before returning them to their natural flanks. Neville also had Gonzalo Higuain go from playing as one of two center forwards at the beginning of the game to serving as the No. 10 for a while to playing up top as a lone striker after the introduction of brother Federico near the 60th-minute mark.
Neville currently appears to be at a loss for how to get the best out of this team, opting to push any and all buttons to see what if anything works. That is something he will need to really take a closer look at and figure out during this international break. Otherwise, this bad run of form might continue for Inter Miami.
CHAPMAN makes a case to start over matuidi
One change Neville may want to consider for when the games pick back up again in June is starting Jay Chapman in the center of the park.
Chapman entered the match vs. D.C. United in the 61st minute, and brought a breath of fresh air to the Inter Miami midfield. The Canadian not only provided more energy and mobility in that part of the pitch, but circulated the ball quickly and accurately to finish with a game-high 92.6 percent passing completion while also pulling off a couple of really good plays that helped advance the ball from defense to attack.
The first came in the 67th minute when Chapman received a pass from the back and pulled off a nice turn under pressure to dribble forward and find Kelvin Leerdam out wide. The second happened two minutes later, as he hit a nice one-timed ball into space to Gonzalo Higuain down the right.
Chapman also showed some personality during his time on the field, picking up a fallen Higuain from behind to get the frustrated attacker back into the game. All of those contributions combined with Blaise Matuidi’s continued poor showings should give Neville something to think about in terms of which of those two central midfielders should start next to Gregore in the next match.
Yes, Chapman may have his own limitations, but right now he looks like he might provide an upgrade to that position.
team is low on confidence
This may seem obvious given how things have gone as of late, but it is clear that Inter Miami is a team that is currently low on confidence.
The third goal in the 71st minute notably depicted that, as Inter Miami had a numerical advantage on the play and still conceded. Five players were in the vicinity of three D.C. United attackers, but a lack of urgency and conviction saw Paul Arriola find Ola Kamara with an exquisite cross that was headed home.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 30, 2021
There were defensive errors on the play, including Shawcross’ decision to watch the ball more than his mark, but Inter Miami had the numbers to put out the fire beforehand. That the team did not snuff out the danger with a good bit of time left in a game that was still within reach shows there is a lack of belief right now within the squad, something that absolutely has to change in order to turn things around.
inter miami player ratings
John McCarthy (5) — Could not do much on any of the goals and was not tested much beyond that.
Nicolas Figal (2.5) — Involved in some capacity in all three tallies, with his forced pass on the first the worst of his transgressions.
Ryan Shawcross (2.5) — His lack of speed was evident and his ball-watching on the third strike was lamentable for someone of his experience.
Christian Makoun (3.5) — Should have gotten to the ball first on the 21st-minute goal and did not look entirely comfortable when he had it at his feet.
Lewis Morgan (6) — Tried willing the team with heart, effort, and grit, but it was not enough on a day in which too few players performed well.
Victor Ulloa (4.5) — Put in work on the defensive side, but was largely a non-factor before coming off at halftime.
Gregore (5.5) — Like Morgan, made his presence felt. Had some very good tackles and did a decent job of being the link the team tried to play through.
Blaise Matuidi (5) — A better overall showing, though he still did not leave a big enough stamp on things before coming off at the hour-mark.
Joevin Jones (4.5) — More involved defensively than in the attack, where his contributions were few and far between.
Gonzalo Higuain (4.5) — Tried to make things happen when on the ball, but was largely held in check.
Julian Carranza (4) — Starved of service and had precious few touches, though he came closest to scoring with a snap header that pulled wide.
Brek Shea (4) — Did not make an impact after coming off the bench at the break.
Federico Higuain (4) — Also failed to show much after entering the match to fill in at the No. 10 spot.
Kelvin Leerdam (4.5) — Gave the team another attacking threat on the right after subbing on, but had some trouble defensively.
Jay Chapman (6.5) — Passed accurately, provided energy, and brought new ideas to the midfield to bolster his case for a starting role.
Edison Azcona (5.5) — Showed hunger and fearlessness during his nine-minute cameo.
Phil Neville (2) – His tactics and formation at the start of the game did not work, and he continued to change things in an effort to get the team back into it to no avail.