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As Neville era begins, Inter Miami puts more focus on possession

It might be early days in the Phil Neville era for Inter Miami, but already an idea of the playing style and identity that he wants to implement is beginning to emerge.

Inter Miami officially started preseason on Monday, but the team has been hard at work since well before. Players have been taking part in voluntary training sessions for weeks now, and that has allowed a bit of added time for new head coach Neville to try and introduce his philosophy and plans to the Herons ahead of his first MLS season.

“The reality is that his idea is very possession-based,” said centerback Leandro Gonzalez Pirez in Spanish. “He likes having possession a lot. We have been working a lot on possession. It is something that we feel comfortable doing because we have players that can do it.”

It is one thing to say you want to play a certain way and work on it in practice and it is another to actually execute it on the field vs. another team that can impose its will on you. That said, if Inter Miami can become a possession-based side this year then that would be quite a difference from the side that competed during the organization’s expansion season in 2020.

Be it because of personnel, personal philosophic preference, or a combination of both, former Inter Miami head coach Diego Alonso did not value keeping the ball as much as Neville seemingly does. The Herons lost the possession battle often in matches last year — 15 times in 24 games, to be exact — and that was one of many reasons why they struggled to both dictate the tempo and produce consistent victories.

While prizing possession may be a new wrinkle adopted under Neville, one tactic that Inter Miami is planning to more or less keep the same as in the Alonso days is being a high-pressing team.

“Another aspect that we have worked on a lot is pressing,” said Gonzalez Pirez. “He is a coach who does not like not having the ball, so when we lose it it is about trying to get it back quickly so we can then again work on the possession game we have been doing.”

Another thing Inter Miami has been working on during the last couple of weeks is communication. A big talk point following the ugly playoff elimination to Nashville SC last fall was the lack of understanding between players, particularly after former Heron defender A.J. DeLaGarza said there were significant language barriers that created for confusion and ultimately errors.

To correct that Neville has adopted the approach of speaking primarily in English during training sessions. He will occasionally sprinkle in some Spanish words — and he holds 1-on-1 meetings in that language when needed — but his team talks are done almost exclusively in English.

For the players that may not be entirely clear on what is being said in those huddles — Neville stated there are three such players currently in practice: Rodolfo Pizarro, Nicolas Figal and Christian Makoun — a follow-up chat is held with them to ensure everyone is on the same page.

“We have got a really good understanding that communication is absolutely vital within a team and the one thing that I think we learned from last year is that the communication has to be better,” said Neville. “Make sure that there is one message and one message heard and one message spoken.”

Of course, it is all a work in progress for Inter Miami right now and the team will not know exactly how far along it is in the process until it plays a few preseason matches. For now, though, the idea is simply for the players to absorb all of what their new head coach is asking of them as he attempts to introduce his philosophy and playing style at the start of a long preparatory camp.

“More than training it is understanding a little bit what each coach wants to put forth and what they want to do on the field,” said Gonzalez Pirez. “I think if we understand his idea quickly, then we will be able to better carry it out on the field as opposed to if we train and do not understand what is going on.

“I think it is very important to interpret and understand his message, more so than everything else.

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