Inter Miami is a little more than a week away from starting the 2021 MLS season, but details on how the team will set up and play under new head coach Phil Neville have remained largely scarce.
Enough crumbs have been left to get somewhat of an idea, though.
Inter Miami has tried its hardest to keep its tactics under wraps through the first five weeks of preseason preparations, choosing not to livestream its matches while also avoiding disclosing almost any details about the friendlies it has played to date. Sources tell SBI that Inter Miami has also asked preseason opponents to not reveal any information regarding lineups, results or goal-scorers. Practically everything has been behind closed doors.
The extent to which Inter Miami has gone to prevent information from coming out is a bit of a different approach, but news about the Herons’ exhibitions have still managed to slip through the cracks. Tampa Bay Rowdies player Forrest Lasso tweeted on March 27 that his side beat Inter Miami by a 1-0 mark, and sources told SBI that the MLS side won its second preseason game on Wednesday vs. cross-town foe Miami FC by the same score. Gonzalo Higuain had the winning goal in that one.
The results do not provide an idea for how Inter Miami will play, however. Neville has focused his training sessions on playing a possession game that involves plenty of intensity and pressing, but it has yet to be seen publicly how exactly he wants his team to go about things and in what formation. A 4-2-3-1 is possible, but so too is a 4-3-3.
To get a better idea of what Inter Miami may do stylistically, here is what a few players had to say about their respective spots and the tactics Neville is giving them. Not every position is covered here — goalkeeper and the No. 10 role are absent — but the responses provided may make for a better idea of what we can expect from Inter Miami once the 2021 season gets underway.
Neville has talked about being tougher defensively this year, but has not said much to date about how the team will build out. It seems, though, that Inter Miami will not be one of those teams that is dead set on playing out of the back despite the desire to keep possession.
“What we have practiced is that we always get to make the decisions,” versatile defender Nicolas Figal told SBI in Spanish. “If we see that the build out is doable in five touches, we will do it in five touches. If we see the build out is doable in two passes, we will do it in two passes. If it is in one with the goalkeeper just playing direct, we will do it that way.
“It is just based on how the opponent presses us.”
It appears the outside backs will play in a very modern way, getting forward and occupying advanced spots on the field often in order to provide passing outlets for the team. They will also apparently help provide much of the Herons’ width when in possession.
“Phil asks us as outside backs to get as high and wide as much as possible, but making sure we are waiting in the right situations for when to go forward and when to make those forward passes,” said left back Patrick Seagrist. “A key emphasis is just being patient and when it is not on, being able to change the point of the attack as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
We know Neville has prioritized keeping the ball, and it sounds like he is also asking for patience in trying to generate scoring chances. Inter Miami will seemingly prefer to unlock defenses with astute positional understanding, sharp off-the-ball movements, and plenty of short passes. Maintaining the structure of the formation and being less flexible in terms of interchanging positions may also be preferred.
“What we have been doing so far is we have just been keeping the ball and we have been a lot more patient, which has been good,” said central midfielder Jay Chapman. “We have guys obviously that when they get into (dangerous) areas they can hurt people. We have been really good at kind of focusing on keeping the ball and not rushing things and figuring out how we are going to attack.
“Anybody can attack, but it is important to kind of set up in the right positions to be able to kind of get good attacking chances as opposed to just kind of attacking just to attack.”
There is not as much information for how the attacking wide players will perform, but they will apparently be tasked with both helping create the team’s verticality with runs into space and moving into central pockets to help keep hold of the ball with good interplay.
“As a team we like our wingers to be very involved, whether it is coming inside and combining with our midfielders or making runs in behind,” said attacker Josh Penn. “He has us being very active.”
As for the No. 9 role, Neville apparently wants his strikers to stay high and provide much of the Herons’ depth on the field. Of course, there will be an element of high-pressing for the striker when playing without the ball, but the idea when in possession looks to be to challenge back lines with constant runs in behind to help create chances both for teammates and oneself.
“What Phil asks of us forwards is to give the team depth, to generate spaces for the midfielders so they can break lines, to quickly press in the final third when we lose the ball and be the first to do so in order to try and recover the ball,” said forward Julian Carranza in Spanish. “He also asks us to always be in the area, looking for the first post to finish off crosses.”