The highly anticipated wait has come to an end, Inter Miami CF have named their head coach who will take charge for the club’s inaugural season – two time CONCACAF Champions League and Liga MX Clausura winner, Diego Martín Alonso López.

Almost a decade into management, the 44-year-old Uruguayan has some noteworthy achievements under his belt. The most outstanding of which, Diego Alonso is the only manager in history to have won two CONCACAF Champions Leagues with two different clubs, while at Pachuca of Mexico in 2017 and Monterrey of Mexico in 2019.

Alonso has taken charge of 304 competitive games as a manager across nine years, winning 46%, drawing 24% and losing 29%. His points per game currently stand at 1.6 on average – an average tally Miami will be expecting to rise significantly in the coming years.

Coaching History

Diego Martín Alonso López’s start in management came in 2011 when he took charge of C.A. Bella Vista of his Montevideo, Uruguay, the club where he made his name 16 years earlier. Shorter than his four-year reign as a striker at the club, Alonso left the following season to take on a new challenge in Paraguay where he managed Club Guaraní.

The next season in 2013, Alonso moved back to Uruguay where he managed Club Atlético Peñarol. It was to be another short stay as the following year, the Paraguay team, Club Olimpia required Alonso’s services, and so he made a move back to Paraguay one final time. In that same year, Liga MX side, Club de Fútbol Pachuca of Mexico, came calling and Alonso answered the call.

Alonso spent four years at Club de Fútbol Pachuca, and it was here he got his first taste of silverware as a head coach. Honours included: Liga MX Clausura in 2016, CONCACAF Champions League in 2017 and Copa MX Runner-up in 2017. In 2018 Alonso moved to Liga MX rivals, Club de Fútbol Monterrey, come May 2019, of the season that commenced with Monterrey defeating Mexican side Tigres UANL in a two-legged tie to win what would be the clubs fourth Champions League title and a second for Alonso personally. In September 2019 after a poor run of results in the domestic league, and perhaps other factors that were not brought to light, Monterrey parted ways with Alonso after one year of service with the club.

2020 sees Alonso take on an exciting new project as he becomes the very first head coach of Inter Miami CF. Although Alonso’s longest-term as a head coach was four years while at Pachuca, accounting for duration of service at all previous clubs across nine years,  the Uruguayan has just a 1.5-year average management time per club. Along with the board of management, the Miami fans will be hoping that coupled with success, Diego Alonso will be the right man for years to come.

The tactical analysis below will give a comprehensive and straightforward analysis of the tactics and style we have seen implemented by Alonso at his previous clubs.
Along with formation, offence, and defence, we will look at other key aspects to how his teams set up and play alongside his general philosophy.

Formation

Diego Alonso at Inter Miami CF 2019/20 - tactical analysis tactics

Diego Alonso’s teams primarily utilise the 4-2-3-1 shape. It is not uncommon to see Alonso change his formation in late stages of a game, sometimes to a 4-3-3 or a 4-1-4-1. These changes are usually implemented to impact the coaches offensive strategy or similarly his defensive strategy when consolidating for the opponent. However, the balanced shape that offers the most efficiency for his style of play is the 4-2-3-1. As we look at the unique characteristics of a Diego Alonso team, we will see why the chosen formation marries well with how his team plays.

Comfortable centre-backs

Diego Alonso at Inter Miami CF 2019/20 - tactical analysis tactics

Observe for a moment the tactical annotation above. This is the typical movement we will see from the defenders and midfielders when possession has been won back without any immediate pressure. The team create this shape when they have intentions to build-up play and start their attack from deep.

This is exercised more frequently during goal-kicks and patient build-up play. Notice also the shaded area highlighting the two central-midfielders, this we will expanded on later but these players are crucial in creating space and overloads for the defenders to play forward.

Diego Alonso at Inter Miami CF 2019/20 - tactical analysis tactics

As we see centre-backs and full-backs increase their distance and move into wide areas. The two central-midfielders also increase their distance from one another as one will play close to the defenders, and the other will move away to offer depth and create space by bringing an opponent with him. Now there is width and depth to play around or through the opponent’s pressure.

Diego Alonso’s centre-backs are usually comfortable ball carriers, who are responsible for starting attacks from deep and dribbling to change the point of attack. Meaning they will still receive a pass when an opponent is in close range and again execute a decisive pass forward to progress the attack. As we can see, both centre-backs have horizontal options with the full-backs and vertical options with the central-midfielders. It is not just the tactical aspect we notice here but the courage and the intention the defenders have to take possession of the ball in these areas to make key passes forward and develop a fruitful attack.

Double-pivot connecting the attack

It is essential to clarify what is meant by ‘double-pivot’ first. Usually, the term ‘pivot’ refers to a deeper-lying central-midfielder who plays above the defence but below the midfield, responsible for connecting the defenders with the attackers when in possession.
On a tactical annotation, this player will often be represented by the position ‘CM’ or sometimes ‘CDM’ meaning central-defensive-midfielder.

As I am sure you can quickly establish, a ‘double-pivot’ refers to two players who serve this purpose and that is exactly what we will see below. As we saw above, these players seldom play on the same horizontal lines unless they are defending and have a good tactical chemistry to link up and play well.

Diego Alonso at Inter Miami CF 2019/20 - tactical analysis tactics

Above, we see the orthodox movements required by each player in the attacking phase. Both ‘CMs’ play at a closer distance to their near side full-backs when they are in possession and generally will avoid being on the same horizontal line to one another.

In the case of how Alonso sets his team up to play, one ‘CM’ will often join the attack and be present in central areas when the team’s attack has advanced into goal scoring zones.

Diego Alonso at Inter Miami CF 2019/20 - tactical analysis tactics

Above we see a fluid and inventive passing sequence that starts with a right-back playing a pass to the oncoming ‘CM’. From there, the ‘CM’ executes a one-touch pass into the space where the right-midfielder will arrive, continued by another forward pass by the ‘RM’ to meet the inside run of the advancing ‘RB’. This play results in a goal-scoring opportunity inside the opponent’s box.

This moment is also a good representation of the quality and purpose of the ‘CM’ who does well to create space, arriving in the right moment to receive a pass and subsequently being able to execute a key pass forward in one-touch to bring the attack behind the opposition’s midfield. The role of the ‘CM’ is critical in Alonso’s offensive style of play.

Full-backs are a mainstay in attack

It is no phenomenon to hear full-backs are a part of teams’ attacking shape in this era. Although it can be said that not all teams that assume to have this identity do it efficiently or well. When watching Diego Alonso’s Monterrey, it was evident that the coach sets his team up to have his full-backs be crucial and effective in the final third. Being good ball carriers, crossers of the ball as well as having the intelligence to move into pockets of space to forward the attack are all fundamental qualities for these attack-minded full-backs.

Diego Alonso at Inter Miami CF 2019/20 - tactical analysis tactics

The above image gives an illustration of the full-backs’ purpose and passing options when in possession. As we can see highlighted by the shaded area, the RB gives the width in the attack which serves to stretch the opponent and allow teammates to exploit the space. We can see the supporting teammates help create an overload as well as offer specific tactical options in their position.

The CF remains central and ready to meet a dangerous cross. The CAM moves into the pocket of space between the opposition defenders as still a penetrating option. The RM offers an inside option while the CM provides a safer back pass option if opportunities forward are denied. The full-backs can only be a threat if they are technically proficient and skilful in the final third.

Diego Alonso at Inter Miami CF 2019/20 - tactical analysis tactics

Above we see an example in a game – moments after Monterrey won possession back at the halfway line, the RB makes a run with pace beyond the RM who was in possession. The opposition defenders cannot press the RM when he was in possession because of the threat the supporting RB was offering while arriving at pace.

The RB receives the pass and on his second touch he is set and able to deliver a dangerous low cross for either of the two forwards in the box to connect with and score. At Miami, it will be interesting to see the relationship between the full-backs and the strikers under Alonso as he stamps his mark on the team.

CAM, the creator between the lines

The centre-attacking-midfielder or CAM is the creator in the final third that really has a lot to say for developing prominent attacks and making the difference. The CAM is usually placed centrally, a bit higher from the midfield but just beneath the striker at short distances. At Monterrey, Alonso had a quality playmaker in Thomas Pizarro.

The CAM was technically and tactically proficient, he would take up unorthodox positions in pockets of space and would be the connecting link between deeper-lying players and the striker. Under Alonso, the CAM would move into the half-spaces well, receive, turn and offer a penetrating pass or retain and recycle play higher up the field to help find the break-through.

Diego Alonso at Inter Miami CF 2019/20 - tactical analysis tactics

Here we see a clever moment of invention – the CM delays a moment as there is no opportunity to penetrate the oppositions compact central defence. The CAM moves to the outside of the opposition RB to create width. However, still with a moment and an angle to play with, the CM delivers a penetrating pass into the CAM’s run.

In this situation, Monterrey found the net thanks to the quality of delivery from the cross as well as the vision and the movement to get there from the striker. Most, if not all attacks have the CAM involved so it will be vital that Alonso has the right players at Miami at his disposal when he is looking for a player to make the difference.

Defensive style

Defending has seemed to be a significant issue at Monterrey during Alonso’s final months in charge. Personnel is a factor for consideration also when you are not outscoring your opponents as your defensive troubles seem to be a little more pronounced. During the 2018/19 season, Monterrey had an xGA average of 1.0 per game. Not the highest for a team in their position, however, the troubles in offence in the last few months only seemed to highlight the defensive woes.

Diego Alonso at Inter Miami CF 2019/20 - tactical analysis tactics

Above, we see Monterrey set up a high block to meet the opponent on the edge of their third. The CF’s role is to isolate the CB in possession when the opportunity presents itself. Once the CF has done that, that is the cue for the midfield to shift across and become compact on the side the opponent is forced to attack. If the midfield of the deeper CM’s intercept or win possession they will look to transition quickly and punish a stretched and disorganised defence.

Diego Alonso at Inter Miami CF 2019/20 - tactical analysis tactics

When defending deeper and consolidating for the opponent we see Alonso sets his teams up in two banks of four with the CAM as the attacking outlet should they win possession. Notice the central area with the attacker highlighted in possession – we see the two CM’s become narrow to deny the opponent space to dribble. The CB moves from his line to press and prepare to intercept a pass that may be played into the striker’s feet. The LM & RM drop back and become level with the two CMs so that the whole team remains compact relative to the position of the ball.

At Monterrey and Pachuca, Alonso was helped with having experienced defenders at his disposal. At Miami, especially in the first season while the team establishes itself, defensive solidity and defensive pride will need to be part of the team’s identity as they aim to be a threat in the inaugural season.

Miami’s CONCACAF mission

After announcing the appointment of Diego Alonso, Miami’s Sporting Director Paul McDonough stated: “in Diego, we found a manager that fits our culture and has a strong desire to build a winning club for our fans.” He went on to say “we have big aspirations for our club and believe Diego has the right drive, passion and leadership to accomplish our goals.”

Although we do not officially know who was on the shortlist for Miami and who was approached for the job, it can be understood that Alonso’s experience in Central America, his Liga MX success, as well as his prolific Champions League record, made him a standout candidate as the head coach who will lead Inter Miami CF in their inaugural season. What remains to be seen is if Miami will make a blockbuster signing by the start of the 2020 season. Rumoured to be seeking the signature of the Chelsea winger, Pedro, the 32-year-old will be on the shopping list for a lot of MLS teams this new year. However, Miami will look an attractive option for top players considering a move to MLS.

Final thoughts

Diego Alonso first test as Miami head coach is a difficult one as he takes his side away to play the ever-dangerous LAFC on March 1st. It will be two weeks later when Miami get to play their first home game. They will host LA Galaxy in the beautiful ‘Miami Freedom Park’ stadium and it will be on this day Miami will be keen to start their home history with a win.

It remains to be seen how Diego Alonso will set his team up to play. The MLS offers this head coach a new challenge, new country, new culture, new language but the expectations will be familiar – to win.

Follow us here as we’ll track the progress of this team and their new head coach as the season gets underway. Will Diego change his formation and style, what key players may be recruited to the roster and will they hit the ground running in a league that only seems to get tougher? We will track all the progress and give the fans an in-depth analysis of how Miami is progressing as the weeks unfold.


Total Football Analysis Magazine #16: December 2019

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Ian O'Neill