This MLS season marks the inaugural season for Inter Miami CF. The club owned by the footballing legend, David Beckham (former player of Manchester United and Real Madrid), has gathered a lot of attention with their bright pink kits and state-of-the-art soccer complex coming soon to the Miami locals.
While the hype of the new club continues to surround the team, performances are incredibly important. Beckham appointed the highly regarded Diego Alonso as the manager and is hoping to find success early on. Alonso is a manager used to success in the Americas as he has won the CONCACAF Champions League twice as well as winning the Liga MX. These accolades are what Inter Miami CF hopes he continues as he manages the squad.
Among the players that have populated the squad, Rodolfo Pizarro is the main man after his recent $12 million transfer from Monterrey in Mexico. Interestingly, this transfer marks the second time Pizarro has followed Alonso to his current club. This indicates that he is certainly the man Alonso is looking to build his team and tactics around.
Despite a preseason that ended in a 1-0 victory, Inter Miami has not been able to continue a winning performance during their first two matches in Major League Soccer. They have registered a 1-0 loss to LAFC and a 2-1 defeat to D.C. United, both away from home. These losses see Inter Miami sit 12th out of 13 clubs in the Eastern Conference. This tactical analysis and scout report will break down exactly what went wrong in Alonso’s tactics and how he attempted to change those tactics during the season thus far.
Most of this scout report will surround Alonso’s tactical switch from a 4-4-1-1 formation against LAFC to a quite different 3-4-3 formation against D.C. United. The reason for so much emphasis on the formation during this analysis is due to Alonso’s tactics. In order to implement what he wants to achieve, he must find the right formation for his players.
Role of the Wingbacks
The role of the wing-backs plays a major part in Alonso’s tactical set-up. He encourages the left and right-backs to get wide in order to gain possession of the ball as well as making forward runs to join the attack. This was evident early on during Inter Miami’s first match against LAFC when they were in the 4-4-1-1 formation. This was an interesting tactic from Alonso because of the risk involved in this decision. If the wingbacks were to lose the ball in possession high up the pitch, it would allow for the dangerous Carlos Vela (former Arsenal winger) and Brian Rodriguez to get in behind and isolate the centre-backs.
This allowed Rodriguez and Vela to register 4 and 5 shots respectively, with Vela scoring the matches only goal with a fantastic chip. With only 39 percent of the possession during the match, it was always going to be difficult for Inter Miami to succeed using these tactics. They allowed four big chances and twenty-one total shots which is a very large amount. The reason the scored stayed 1-0 was due to the heroics of the goalkeeper and captain Luis Robles.
The analysis below shows the ineffectiveness and sloppiness of the Inter Miami play while utilizing the wing-backs. Ben Sweat, the Inter Miami left-back, receives the ball from Robles off of the goal kick. Sweat is fairly high up the pitch and is caught out. His only option in the midfield is covered and he is pressed heavily by the LAFC midfielder. Sweat does not have any options and this action results in Inter Miami losing the ball. This tactic was not only wasteful but dangerous. Circled in the image is Vela, who led the MLS in scoring last season. When Inter Miami loses possession of the ball, it allows Vela to be in behind Sweat and attack the centre-backs. This is how Vela registered five shots on goal – he was allowed too much space in behind.
Despite this tactical decision causing Inter Miami problems against LAFC, this did not sway Alonso from sticking to his principles. Instead of persisting with a 4-4-1-1, Alonso decided to make a formation change to a 3-4-3 against D.C. United. This change allowed for the wing-backs to be a part of the midfield, providing extreme width to Inter Miami’s attack. It also allowed them to be a part of a back five, which will be explained later in this analysis.
The switch to a 3-4-3 allowed Sweat and Dylan Nealis (the right wing-back against D.C. United) to have much more freedom going forward. This time, if they were to lose possession of the ball it would not be as detrimental as before. There would be an extra defender (who would likely be closer to them) to close down any counter-attacking opportunity.
The analysis below shows the effectiveness of Alonso’s formation switch. Because of the freedom to get forward without being susceptible to the counter, the wingbacks bomb forward. This example occurs just 43 seconds into the match against D.C. United. Nealis, the right-back circled, is making an overlapping run. Lewis Morgan then plays him the ball into the box which results in a chance created for Inter Miami.
Another area of Inter Miami’s play that is heavily affected by formation is the defensive shape. This is something that Alonso must figure out in order to search for his first victory. In the first match against LAFC, it was a long afternoon for Inter Miami. They surrendered twenty-one shots to LAFC. The reason for such a terrible stat lies in their defensive shape, an area that was somewhat highlighted in the analysis above. Although the wingbacks were very high up the pitch, there were other problems.
The space between the centre-backs and the midfielders was far too large, allowing LAFC players to filter into space and pick up the ball just outside Inter Miami’s box. This was where most of LAFC’s shots originated from. Without Robles having a terrific match LAFC could have scored far more goals. An example of this space occurred in the first half of the match and continued to be a problem for the remaining time.
In the analysis below, Mark-Anthony Kaye is on the ball for LAFC. The defensive shape for Inter Miami in this instance is a prime example of the difficulties they were having. The two midfielders are too tight allowing for the passing lane to open up for Kaye. There is a huge pocket of space between the midfielders and the centre-backs – space that the LAFC players are taking action to move into. With only two centre-backs present, if one of them steps into the space to follow the runner, that could cause a severe opening of the defence.
This defensive weakness was soon identified by Alonso as he picked his starting level against D.C. United. As mentioned numerous times in this scout report, the change to a 3-4-3 was a crucial decision. This allowed for Alonso to fix the issues while attacking wide, but also fixed the issues of defending.
In the example below, the benefits of the new formation are present. Although the team sheet recognizes three defenders, the wing-backs play a key role. While attacking they are the extra wingers, however, when defending they become part of a back five. This shape allows for Inter Miami to cover the wide areas with more affectiveness while being able to control the middle of the pitch. Here, D.C. United have possession and have their players spread wide. Inter Miami’s defensive shape is more sound as they have cover in multiple areas of the pitch. Despite the space between the centre-backs and the central defensive midfielder (although small), if the D.C. United striker checked into the space, a centre-back could follow knowing that there were two other centre-backs behind him to cover. This eliminates the problems just highlight in the analysis above.
Another important aspect of Inter Miami’s playstyle is the way Alonso utilises his favourite and most significant player, Pizarro. The 26-year-old Mexican international is the main man after his transfer. Alonso has been experimenting with the best way to get the most out of his playmaker. Despite not being known for his tremendous goal and assist tally, Pizarro plays a key role in the team. He has fantastic technical ability and confidence while on the ball to pick out key passes.
In the first match for Inter Miami, Pizarro played in his familiar #10 role as the main attacking midfielder. While this may seem like the best fit for the Mexican, the tactics used by Alonso did not complement his position. As referred to earlier in the analysis, Inter Miami like to play the ball in wide areas to create chances and work the ball up the pitch. These tactics did not align with where Pizarro was on the pitch, therefore leading to him being less involved in the attacking build-up.
During the match against D.C. United, Alonso made the change in formation and Pizarro began to flourish because he was seeing more of the ball. In the analysis below, Robbie Robinson is driving forward with the ball after a key interception. Here, Pizarro is out wide instead of tucked in behind the young striker. With this new positioning, he has a great chance of receiving the ball in a more dangerous position. This action ended in a Pizarro goal marking his and his team’s first goal in the MLS.
Alonso continues to show Pizarro’s importance with a tactical change later on in the match. Typically, you would want your best players to be close to the goal in order to increase your chance of scoring. In this case, Pizarro is dropping incredibly deep in between Inter Miami’s centre-backs to receive the ball. At this point, Inter Miami is chasing the game. This shows the overall importance in Pizarro’s playmaking ability.
While both matches ended in a defeat for Inter Miami, there were a lot of promising moments that were highlighted in this analysis. The club is only two matches into a season that will mark their first in the MLS. There is plenty of time for Alonso to tweak his tactics and analyze what needs to change in order for his side to win matches. If it wasn’t for two disappointing set-pieces against D.C. United, perhaps they would have earned their first victory.
Supporters will anxiously await the resume of the season which has been halted due to the coronavirus. This will give Alonso time to gather his thoughts and his players a fresh start once the season continues.