There was plenty of talk about whether Diego Alonso would be an attack-minded or defensive head coach back when Inter Miami hired him over the winter.
Well, the picture is becoming clearer and it is looking more and more like the latter.
Inter Miami grabbed its first-ever road point on Wednesday night via a scoreless draw with Atlanta United, leading Alonso to label his team’s performance in the match as the most complete one that Inter Miami has delivered to date. This just over a week after the club scored three goals on Orlando City to record the first victory in franchise history.
While Alonso’s comments make sense on some level given that Inter Miami gave up only one shot on target vs. Atlanta United en route to recording the first shutout of the year as opposed to two goals vs. Orlando City, they seem to reveal how he views the game.
That being through a defense-first lens and not necessarily by the free-flowing attacking style that he and Inter Miami officials talked about plenty at the start of the year. Further underlining that point was how Alonso seemed a bit baffled Wednesday when he was asked about the team’s slow start with the first question of his post-game press conference.
It is no secret that Alonso was a bit pragmatic during some of his time in Liga MX and clearly Inter Miami has been missing a significant piece or two to aid in the attack.
That said, the expansion side has clearly prioritized more than anything being as defensively sound as possible. It is a big part of why the team has yet to lose by more than a single goal in the first eight games but also why it creates so little and scores even less.
Things might change once Blaise Matuidi is introduced to the fold and if the reported signing of Gonzalo Higuain is finalized. Still, Alonso rating a performance in which Inter Miami recorded a shutout but was held without a goal higher than a match in which his team scored three and won shows very clearly what facets of the game are most important to him.
Predictable Playing Style
In a similar vein, Inter Miami’s attack has been fairly easy to figure out. At least to this point.
Wednesday’s match vs. Atlanta United saw Inter Miami do much of the same things tactically that it has done all year: attacking predominantly down the wings and hitting a steady dose of crosses towards the middle for players to try and push home. That formula is how five of the team’s six goals have been scored this season.
Atlanta United seemed to know that from the start, stretching wide initially to cut off the outside passing lanes when Inter Miami had the ball and proceeding to throw numbers towards the middle to give itself a better shot at cutting out the service when Inter Miami was able to penetrate into the final third. Stephen Glass’ side did a good overall job of all of that, though it also had a dose of fortune on Nicolas Figal’s flubbed chance from point-blank in the 39th minute.
That was really the only play in which Inter Miami delivered a precise and deadly ball on Wednesday, though. Too often vs. Atlanta United did Lewis Morgan crosses from the right lack accuracy — including on one play in the second half that left an open Rodolfo Pizarro on his knees screaming in frustration — while Brek Shea provided little to the attack on the left.
Alonso asks his wingers to be aggressive and go at defenders in 1-on-1 situations. It’s something he wants in his team’s style of play, but, as Wednesday showed, that can be far too one-dimensional when Inter Miami’s wide players don’t bring the necessary quality in their individual battles or final balls. Looking for combinations and prioritizing the collective might be the better option at times, but that happened too few and far between against Atlanta United.
It must be noted that Inter Miami has tried to switch things up a bit lately by throwing different formational looks at opponents depending on the situation and position of the field the expansion side is on, including in Wednesday’s bout. That, however, has done little to mask attacking tactics that have become both predictable and largely ineffective.
Defense Shows Well
As mentioned previously, Inter Miami recorded its historic first clean sheet on Wednesday night. It has to be mentioned, of course, that Atlanta United is a side in transition and was without one of its more talented players and difference-makers in Gonzalo ‘Pity’ Martinez ahead of his expected transfer out of MLS.
Regardless, you can only play the opponent you have in front of you and in this one Inter Miami did a great job defensively.
Led by a strong outing from former Atlanta United defense Leandro Gonzalez Pirez — who was the best player on the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in this one — Inter Miami held Atlanta United at bay. The Georgia club had one truly dangerous look on frame early on, but Erick ‘Cubo’ Torres missed on his volleyed attempt in the 11th minute after young centerback Andres Reyes got caught ball-watching.
Overall, the team’s high press proved effective and the back line was as good as it has been in 2020. Gonzalez-Pirez frustrated and largely negated Torres with his physical play, Figal and Sweat had very little trouble out wide with their defending, Reyes bounced back from his last game with stout positioning overall and good passing between the lines, and Robles did everything that was asked of him.
Bigger tests await, but this will give Inter Miami’s defense a major dose of confidence for what lies ahead.
Inter Miami Player Ratings
Luis Robles (6) — Not overly tested but did everything asked of him, including coming out to grab a few crosses.
Nicolas Figal (6) — Was never really troubled, switched the point of the attack a couple times with precise balls, and got forward well. Should have finished better on his glorious look, though.
Andres Reyes (6) — Fell asleep early on, but was sturdy the rest of the way. The forward passes he hit in between the lines are a massive plus.
Leandro Gonzalez Pirez (7.5) — The best player on the field on Wednesday. His physicality took Torres out of the game, and his cross-field switches were sublime.
Ben Sweat (5.5) — Played it a bit too safe when he got into advanced positions, but defensively held his own.
Jay Chapman (4.5) — Moved the ball quickly when he saw it, but that didn’t happen often. An overall quiet display with little in the way of ball recovery.
Victor Ulloa (5) — Should have had an unintentional assist on his mis-hit header, and did okay serving as the No. 6. Still, he wasn’t overly impressive on either side of the ball.
Lewis Morgan (5) — All but one of his crosses lacked precision, and wasn’t able to win his 1-on-1s with regularity before being subbed off.
Rodolfo Pizarro (6) — Tried his hardest to make things happen by playing forward regularly, but didn’t get a whole lot of help in the attack. His blank stare at the final whistle spoke to his level of frustration.
Brek Shea (4.5) — A far cry from his recent substitute outings. Pressed well and tactically did his job defensively, but his attacking contributions were lacking.
Juan Agudelo (5.5) — Nearly scored late on a snap header, and did a great job of playing with his back to goal for much of the match. Needed more service, though.
Wil Trapp (5.5) — Came in and accurately moved the ball around, but his set-piece delivery was disappointing.
Robbie Robinson (5) — Brought energy up top and had one near chance he wasn’t able to pull the trigger on. Not a whole lot of touches otherwise.
Matias Pellegrini (5) — Tried to bring some needed verticality down the left, but saw too little of the ball during his nine minutes on the field.
Diego Alonso (5.5) — The team’s high press made life difficult for Atlanta United’s attack. That said, his side once again lacked a variety of attacking ideas in the final third.