The 2020 season in the MLS presents two debuting franchises: Inter Miami and Nashville SC. Inter Miami and their coach Diego Alonso, who is new to the league, had a difficult beginning to the season. The team will likely rely on players like Juan Agudelo, Lewis Morgan and Will Trapp for this tournament.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles, with last season’s top goalscorer and former Arsenal forward Carlos Vela, will be thirsty for success this season. In this piece, we will provide a tactical analysis of how these two teams started the season.
Los Angeles, who kept most of their squad from last season, presented a 1-4-3-3 formation and a tactical model game that has given them many wins, with the slight tactical modification of positioning Carlos Vela to the right side and leaving Rossi in the centre. These two, together with Rodríguez, would be responsible for destabilizing Inter’s defensive line. Francisco Ginella, Mark-Anthony Kaye and Latif Blessing were in charge of regaining ball possession work and they, along with the defensive line of Eddie Segura, Dejan Jaković, Jordan Harvey and Tristan Blackmon formed a fantastic and intense team.
Inter Miami has a defensive line with Powell, Sweet and the two centre-backs Torres, a seasoned player who knows the league very well and the Argentine star Jorge Figal. They will no doubt be the strong men of the defensive line. One of the most important signings for this season, Luis Robles who left the Red Bulls to join this new adventure, started in goal. Matias Pellegrini and Lewis Morgan will try with their speed to generate a vertical attack complemented by Rodolfo Pizarro and Robbie Robinson.
Immediate pressing after losing the ball
Los Angeles had clear ideas and always defensively sought to recover the ball after its loss. The players always moved to the front, in the direction of the ball and the players near it. Although the recovery of the ball was not always achieved in the pressing zone, the pressing frequently halted Inter Miami’s ball progression.
Here, we look at the difference between the pressing in the first and second half. In the second half, Los Angeles advanced the lines and the pressing was much more intense. Most of the time the ball was recovered with good positioning on the pitch and not so much by winning duels.
Inter Miami’s wing-backs Powell and Sweet, along with right midfielder Morgan, moved the ball more than 20 times in lateral passes. Los Angeles took advantage of that and recovered the ball or forced a bad pass which made defensive work easy.
Here, Inter Miami’s lines made lateral or backward moves, allowing greater possession of the ball (59%) in addition to wearing players out more, both physically and mentally.
Another defensive aspect that made an important difference has been the distance between lines, while Los Angeles averaged 47.5 meters, the Inter was close to the 57 meters, that means that there were more than 600 additional meters they had to cover through the entire field. This situation was well used by the opponent as we will see later.
This is an excellent image to show the distance between lines, the available space to play was very open and large. Miami was not a compact group in its defensive phase.
Miami lacked aggressiveness when defending. The defensive line was permissive with the opponents’ forwards, who found space and time to keep and play the ball.
Los Angeles behind the dam
Coach Bob Bradley, who is a former head coach of the United States men’s national team and current EFL Championship club Swansea City, understands that the best way to defend is to let the ball be played to the offensive opponents without clarity.
The forward players Rodrgíuez, Rossi and Vela are the first defenders in their team, so their discipline within their team’s defensive tactics is important.
When facing the loss of the ball possession, all the players close to it have the mission to recover it as soon as possible. The picture above shows this tactic: In this image, we see how Pellegrini was surrounded by 7 opponents (Ginella, Rodríguez, Blackman, Vela, Rossi and Kaye).
Play between the lines
It is said that the most important pass is the one that manages to cross defensive lines and the one that puts the forwards in the direction of the goal.
Los Angeles realized this perfectly in the offensive phase, as they passed to the furthest teammate and then passed back and continued to pass and move to damage the opponents’ defensive zone.
To show this, we have the next two images, the one displayed above shows how Harvey (left wing-back) connected with Blessing (the third man) through the forward Rossi who passes back to the player who comes facing to the goal.
We have another example of the perfect coordination between offensive lines. Kaye passes the ball to Rossi, who is the furthest teammate and he has two options to back pass; on the left (Blessing) and the right (Vela) to give them the ball facing towards the opponent’s goal.
This combined attack yielded great results since whenever they had the option of reaching the box they did so with at least 4 offensive players.
Miami opted for direct attack
Unlike the combination game shown by Los Angeles, the debutant team in MLS preferred a more direct attack, looking for long spaces to attack their opponent.
Perhaps this was the best way to try to skip the high pressing of Los Angeles. If we take a look at the graph below, it shows us the number of opportunities that both teams had throughout the game. We can see how close they were to one another when counting created opportunities. However, the Los Angeles team that attacked more accompanied did have more opportunities to score.
The away team made fast transitions as one way to hurt the opponent’s defence. With the physical power and speed of their nominal forward Robinson, always with the support of Pizarro, Morgan and Pellegrini, they generated attacking opportunities but often had a lack of precision at the last pass.
Pizarro found open spaces on several occasions to receive the ball and shoot or give the forward pass to his teammates, but we could see that he is still lacking the rhythm and speed that this league demands.
While the home team continued to threaten the opposition goal, coach Diego Alonso sent two players to the field, midfielder Lee Nguyen alongside Trapp and centre-back Makoun to complete a defence which featured three centre-backs alongside Powell and Sweet who played as wing-backs. Pizarro led the attack playing between the spaces around the strikers Agudelo and Robinson.
Offensively, Miami quickly sent more players into the attack; however, they didn’t succeed in beating the opponent’s goal.
Miami created 39 offensive plays, only 31% of these plays ended with shots and 50% on target.
Coach Alonso took some risks to try to tie the score. In the image, we can see the duels (man to man) in defence. Midfielders Nguyen and Trapp performed great efforts to be able to support both the defensive and offensive lines.
We have another perfect example, in the image above we can see the problems to play under numerical equality, the spaces are very large and it’s almost impossible for the 3 centre-backs to cover the entire area. In this play, Blessing had two options to pass the ball, Rossi is ahead of the centre-back Jaković and he had a great opportunity to score the second goal.
This analysis shows how, at the end of the day, Bob Bradley’s tactics allowed Los Angeles to overcome Inter Miami. His knowledge of the league and his players were key factors in this game. This is a team looking to erase last’s season collapse at the championship match.
It was a tough welcome for Diego Alonso’s team, teaching them how competitive the MLS is, although the first areas to improve and define will be which is the most suitable ideal model game and what are the players on the initial line up.