One of two newcomers in MLS this season, Inter Miami kicked off their inaugural league campaign against LAFC on the 1st of March. LAFC hosted the newcomers at their Banc of California Stadium and ultimately came out with a 1-0 victory. Birthday boy Carlos Vela picked up from where he left off, as he scored a stunning chip to stun David Beckham’s new MLS side.
In this tactical analysis of Inter Miami’s first-ever fixture, we’ll look at how the game progressed tactically and action-wise. We’ll be talking about the tactics adopted by both sides, players that made an impact and characteristic approach of the sides.
Bob Bradley made just two changes from the side that faced Leon three days ago at the CONCACAF Champions Cup. Colombian Eduard Atuesta and Ecuadorian Diego Palacios made way for MLS debutants Uruguayan Francesco Ginella and Dutch Kenneth Vermeer. Bradley opted for a 4-3-3, with Vermeer between the sticks for the LAFC side. The back four comprised of fullbacks Tristan Blackmon and Jordan Harvey with the central duo of Dejan Jakovic and Eddie Segura. Debutant Fransisco Ginella teamed up with Canadian Mark-Anthony Kaye and Latif Blessing to complete the three-man midfield. Previous season’s MVP Carlos Vela operated from the forward right with Brian Rodriguez supporting Diego Rossi from the left in attack.
Diego Alonso opted to play a 4-4-1-1 formation along with the captain Luis Robles keeping the nets for debutants. The back four consisted of Alvas Powell, Roman Torres, Jorge Figal and Ben Sweat. Luis Morgan, the former Celtic man, played at the wide right side of the midfield, forming a four-man midfield with Will Trapp, Victor Ulloa and Matias Pellegrini at the left-side. Star signing Rofoldo Pizarro and Robbie Robinson led the attack for Alonso’s side.
Inter Miami’s style of play
Diego Alonso fielded a 4-4-1-1, with a midfield that had wide occupation to the flanks. The Scot was often used to take the ball forward from the wide side of the pitch, ultimately to feed either of Rofoldo Pizarro and Robbie Robinson. Matias Pellegrini, operating from the opposite side of the midfield, was assigned the same job of making runs and feeding long balls to the front two. The attacks were direct and posed threats to the LAFC defence.
This mode of attack, adopted by Alonso’s side, was effective in keeping the ball out of saturated opposition midfield. The debutants were somehow successful to retain possession by playing the ball out wide.
The attacks that involved two central midfielders- Will Trap and Victor Ulloa were more tilted towards a build-up than a direct approach. Rodolfo Pizarro, who played just behind Robbie Robinson was the key to these kinds of central attacks. Pizarro acted as a supplier, feeding through balls to Robinson, who then could finish for good. However, this mode of attack was not as effective as Inter Miami’s attempts to play from the wider side.
As a result of continuous wide runs and crosses, Inter Miami constantly put up aerial threats inside the opposition box. While on possession, Inter Miami had a very good shot ratio and thus managed to take 15 shots with 1.35 xG despite not being able to score.
On defence, Inter Miami had a very big task in hand- to contain LAFC’s star-studded forward line of Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi, and Brian Rodriguez. Carlos Vela, LAFC’s main man played as a right-winger, contemplating Diego Rossi in the middle. Inter Miami, on their big fixture, did quite good defensively considering their opponent’s previous MLS venture. The idea was clear and simple- closing in on either of the three players that have the ball to ultimately outnumber the forward.
Similarly, Inter Miami were able to man-mark the mobile man- or the passing option inside the box to cancel any threats of long incoming balls. As a result, Inter Miami were successful statistically, winning 10 defensive aerial duels and outnumbering LAFC on the number of interceptions made.
Another characteristic that Diego Alonso’s side were able to master was the application of defensive discipline. Center-backs Roman Torres and Jorge Figal were instrumental in maintaining the offside trap throughout the game. What was interesting to see was the discipline with which the defence integrated to maintain press and nullify any chance of counter-attacks and limiting the room for LAFC to make passes to the forward- Diego Rossi.
Although Inter Miami conceded one, thanks to the brilliance of Carlos Vela, they certainly showed a promise of them being good enough defensively to nullify stronger sides.
LAFC’s style of play
LAFC, who ended their regular season on 72 points, played with a 4-3-3. As anyone would have expected, the play depended heavily on the birthday-boy, Carlos Vela.
Although Vela was placed as a right-winger on papers, Vela was seen frequently cutting inside to link-up with the midfielders and creating chances for his two counterparts in the LAFC forward line. His presence in the link-up meant the play shifted to the right side of the pitch, as he was often seen carrying the ball, drawing defenders and seeking passing options. Vela, however, was not only seen as a playmaker, and took shots in the process. Vela frequently linked-up with fullback Tristan Blackmon from the wide right and cut inside to cause Inter Miami’s defence some problems.
In the pass map, we can see the balls coming to Vela and going to the other players from Vela.
The moment of magic came on the 44th minute of the game, when Vela, controlled the ball with his chest to dodge 3 defenders and chip on beyond Luis Robles to score the decider. Vela often produced balls forward but the lack of proper link-up between Vela’s wing and the centre was visible.
The man to look out from LAFC’s midfield was Latif Blessing, who was vital for the transition from defence to attack. Similarly, LAFC made sure they always kept the ball flowing and were comfortable in possession. Francisco Ginella was seen creating calls for either of Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez. Mark-Anthony Kaye’s physical presence was a plus for LAFC’s midfield.
Defensively, LAFC were lucky not to concede in the first half. With Inter Miami playing long balls from the wider side of the pitch, Dejan Jakovic and Eddie Segura found it particularly hard to deal with Robbie Robinson’s aerial presence. Carlos Vela’s goal, however, seemed to be the turning point for this defence as it became intact as the tie progressed.
Latif Blessing was a man that helped the defensive line a lot with his midfield presence. LAFC applied an intense press, hoping to win the second ball in the opposition half itself. In the process, Blessing recovered 9 balls in the opposition half itself and perfectly teamed up with Ginella to cover for the central defenders. The intense pressing paid off for LAFC and forced Inter Miami to play out from the wide, cancelling their chances of build-up.
Dejan Jakovic was impressive in winning the defensive duels and ground duels, successfully executing the defensive duties with his partner Eddie Segura. As a result of their compact defending and intense pressing, LAFC were able to build-up and recover balls to keep themselves comfortable with the possession.
As this tactical analysis pointed out, both the managers were up for a competition of dominating the play. With his direct approach and some well-blended experience and talent on his side, Diego Alonso has put Inter Miami on MLS’s map. Despite losing their first ever fixture, Inter Miami have a lot of promises to take from this clash.
Bob Bradley’s side, on the other hand, have successfully started their quest for first-ever MLS triumph. Carlos Vela and side look ready to thrive under Bradley’s tactics yet again and it only hints us to an exciting conclusion from this fixture- MLS 2020 is going to be as exciting as it gets.