Inter Miami had endured a rough midweek showing, so Phil Neville made one significant tactical change for Sunday’s match.
It helped Inter Miami tremendously.
Inter Miami grabbed its second win of the season on Sunday evening, going on the road and defeating FC Cincinnati by a 3-2 mark. Gonzalo Higuain’s two-goal performance in the victory was the biggest storyline in this one, but another notable development from the game was how the Herons tweaked their style of play.
Rather than be as direct as it had in previous matches, Inter Miami tried to better keep possession by attempting to build out of the back more often. The team looked to play short on goal kicks frequently, with centerbacks Ryan Shawcross and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez starting sequences in areas inside the 18-yard box to serve as passing options for goalkeeper John McCarthy.
The three of them would then pass to one another before regularly looking forward to play through lines, especially in the middle where Blaise Matuidi served as the primary link connecting the defense and the attack. Even when FC Cincinnati pressed aggressively, the South Florida side made a point to try and initiate plays through Matuidi and, at times, fellow central midfielder Gregore.
“The one thing that we did change was the fact that we wanted the team to play the ball into midfield more, to play central more, to trust Blaise and to trust Gregore, two really good players,” said Inter Miami head coach Phil Neville. “For the last three days I have said to them, ‘You have to play the ball. I do not care if somebody is up their backsides or their marks. I want to trust us playing the ball centrally rather than play the ball wide.’
“They wanted to press us wide and not through the middle, so I wanted us to play through the middle in central areas, and that is where I thought Gregore and Blaise at times in the first half really caused them problems. Blaise demanding the ball off his teammates is what I expect from a player of his quality, and that is what he gives us.”
The tactic worked in that it helped Inter Miami find a better rhythm to the game. It was not flawless, of course, and more a vertical type of build-up rather than a patient and methodical one in which players pass side to side to wait for an opening, but it helped get more players more touches on the ball while the team strung together passing sequences.
Federico Higuaín –> Gonzalo Higuaín
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 16, 2021
The second goal was a direct result of Neville’s change. Inter Miami rapidly played from back to front in the 38th minute, starting with distribution from McCarthy and finishing from Gonzalo Higuain. Sure, there was a bit of good fortune involved along the way when Lewis Morgan lost the ball, but this type of improved build-up play proved effective on Sunday and is something Inter Miami may want to consider using again vs. certain opponents.
Pizarro is (really) out of favor
If one picture or image is worth a thousand words, Phil Neville’s irate reaction to Rodolfo Pizarro’s late effort spoke wonders.
Pizarro had a good chance to put the game away shortly after coming on as a substitute in stoppage time, but FC Cincinnati goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer came up with a good stop. Rather than lament the missed opportunity or look on in disbelief like most of the Inter Miami technical staff, Neville went into Incredible Hulk mode on the sidelines and momentarily snarled in a fit of rage that may have produced foam from his mouth had it gone on any longer.
The angered response combined with Pizarro not starting in this one — via a coach’s decision — after turning in several indifferent performances sure seem to point to the Mexican midfielder being in the coach’s dog house. That may be warranted given Pizarro’s lack of production, but it is a bit eye-opening to see a manager express such indignation to an attempt that was saved.
While several members of Phil Neville’s technical staff lamented Rodolfo Pizarro’s saved shot late yesterday vs. FC Cincinnati, the head coach momentarily snarled in a fit of rage. 😡
— Franco Panizo (@FrancoPanizo) May 17, 2021
Making things worse for Pizarro is how impactful Federico Higuain was as a No. 10 in his first Inter Miami start. The Argentine playmaker moved into different pockets of space all throughout the field in an effort to combine quickly or hit through balls in behind, and also set up his younger brother’s first goal with a clever back-heel pass that was equal parts impressive and effective.
Neville talked mostly nicely about Pizarro’s role within the team after the game but actions, and in this case reactions, speak louder than words.
shea DELIVERS ON BOTH ENDS ON LEFT WING
One player whose performance should not go unnoticed is that of Brek Shea, who not only scored the early opener but also put in a ton of defensive work on the flank as a left winger. He got his first start under Neville in that spot vs. FC Cincinnati, and showed a lot of good things despite not getting too many touches.
Shea finished as the starting Inter Miami player with the fewest touches (29), but his 77 minutes on the field saw him play a smart game with a lot of accurate one-time passes that kept the ball moving. He also helped Sami Guediri mostly shut down their side of the field, with Shea tracking back often — though at times in more central areas — to keep the Herons organized and compact.
In the attack, Shea was not overwhelming in terms of providing service or by going on dribbling runs. Still, he made an impact with the few touches he had, scoring seven minutes in on an outstretched effort and then again later in the first half via a perfectly-placed shot that was denied because a fallen Gonzalo Higuain inadvertently touched the ball on the way in.
Inter Miami has had issues with its left midfield spot dating all the way back to last year, but Shea may just start earning more serious consideration for it after this performance.
“I think what you saw today was the Brek Shea that we all know,” said Neville. “He is athletic, he was a danger, he was a threat.”
Inter Miami Player Ratings
John McCarthy (5.5) — Made two big saves in the first half, but might have been able to do more on FC Cincinnati’s first goal had he not hesitated deciding whether to come off his line or retreat towards it.
Victor Ulloa (6) — Solid defensively and hit one good ball upfield that nearly sprung Lewis Morgan in the second half.
Ryan Shawcross (7) — Did what he had to do at the back with no real mistakes, though it was clear again that he is not that comfortable on the ball.
Leandro Gonzalez Pirez (5.5) — Good for much of the game aside from the one play in which he was beaten by a diagonal run that gave FC Cincinnati its first goal.
Sami Guediri (5) — Serviceable in his first MLS start and played a smart pass to help set up the team’s second goal, but also failed to properly track Alvaro Barreal on FC Cincinnati’s 59th-minute tally.
Gregore (7) — A monster performance in midfield that included an assist. His real lone blemish was not attacking the late set piece that tied things.
Blaise Matuidi (6) — Mostly good at serving as the link between the defense and the attack, though his defensive issues continued to stand out.
Lewis Morgan (6.5) — Put in a ton of effort and expended a lot of energy with good two-way play while also delivering a pinpoint game-winning assist.
Federico Higuain (6.5) — Helped set up the second goal, was constantly looking for the ball, and moved it quickly to help in the build-up.
Brek Shea (7) — Scored the opener off of pure effort and nearly had a second while also adding a lot of good defensive work.
Gonzalo Higuain (7.5) — His best MLS performance to date. Not only scored twice for the first time since joining the league, but also looked much more engaged.
Joevin Jones (6) — Good down the left flank in terms of moving the ball after coming on, connecting on each of his 12 passes.
Julian Carranza (5) — The substitute had a few poor touches, but nearly delivered a good assist on the late Pizarro chance.
Jay Chapman (5) — A serviceable 13-minute cameo off the bench.
Christian Makoun (N/A) — Went in late to serve as a left back in the closing minutes of his season debut
Rodolfo Pizarro (4.5) — Came in at same time as Makoun, but the Designated Player had one good look to score and did not put it away.
Phil Neville (6.5) – His tactic of having Inter Miami build up through its lines mores worked well, as did the insertion of Federico Higuain. His irate reaction to Pizarro’s miss stood out just as much, though.