Phil Neville talked for much of the preseason about wanting Inter Miami to become a high pressing and possession-based team under his watch, but the profiles of his players have made him change his stance.
Inter Miami is four games into the 2021 MLS season, and so far the team’s performances have not exactly resembled the proactive style of play that Neville had repeatedly said he wanted to implement. Rather than be a team that dictates the tempo of matches through large spells of possession and intense pressing in advanced parts of the field, the Herons have mostly hit on the counter while staying organized defensively in their half.
The difference from what was initially desired to what has transpired has been stark, especially with Neville’s repeated utterance of words like “transition” during press conference, but is the result of the Englishman adapting his tactics to the strengths and weaknesses of his squad rather than try and force the issue.
“I think we are probably going to be a different type of team than what I envisioned on Day 1 of preseason,” said Neville ahead of Wednesday night’s match against CF Montreal. “We are going to be a team that has brilliant individuals, that can dribble the ball, that can run with high speed with the ball, that can run without the ball. Ultimately, sometimes when you do not have a lot of possession of the game, you can still control the games in large parts.
“You think about (the recent meetings with) Philadelphia and Nashville when we were not possessing the ball as good as the opposition. I still felt we were controlling the game in terms of our positions and our defending.”
Defensively, Inter Miami has shown some improvements under Neville at this early juncture. The South Florida side has given up just four goals to this point, posting one cleansheet, and largely looked a more cohesive unit than in its expansion campaign in 2020.
How the Herons have gone about limiting opposing teams’ attacks has not been through high pressing, however. While attacking midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro has appeared tasked with occasionally harrying the rival centerbacks to make building out less comfortable, Inter Miami has mostly opted to drop into its defensive posture to close down spaces in its own half. The team is not parking the bus, per se, but staying compact and hitting on the counter has been the approach taken.
Part of that is likely due to star striker Gonzalo Higuain’s inability to press routinely at this stage in his career, but so too might be the team’s ongoing battle to get to top fitness after an interrupted preseason.
“I have looked at it over the last few days because my teams always play a high pressure type of football, but I think you have also got to look at the profile of the players that we have in the top end of the pitch,” said Neville. “You have got to look at the success we have had with limiting the opposition to chances on goal with the compactness of our four (defenders) and four (midfielders) behind the front two and also the chances we are creating by defending a little bit deeper, by allowing the opposition to come onto us, by transitioning as well.”
Neville added that while he has been pleased with a lot of what he has seen from his team with this overall style of play, he does want certain aspects to get better. One of them is improving with the ball and connecting passes for larger stretches, something Inter Miami has not been able to do consistently so far en route to losing the possession battle in each of its four games thus far.
“I am demanding more of the players in terms of better quality, better rhythm, better sequences of passes,” said Neville.
Still, do not expect Inter Miami to become a proactive team that dictates the tempo with the lion’s share of the ball.
“Gonzalo, Pizarro, they are individual type players that like to run with the ball,” said Neville. “You think of Lewis (Morgan) and Robbie (Robinson), they are not possession-type players. They are not wingers that come into the pocket like an (Edison) Azcona does. He comes into the pockets and links with other people.
“The profile means we have dribblers in the team, dribblers in the top four or five (positions).”
It is still early in the season, and things might be able to change for Inter Miami as the team gets more repetitions in training and closer to peak fitness. For now, though, expect the Herons to be a side that largely attempts to be compact and hit on the counter.
“Sometimes you have got to be adaptable with your tactics,” said Neville. “I think with the personnel and the profile of the players that we have got at this moment in time … maybe we just have to be a little more adaptable.”