Here's How Inter Miami's Three Center Backs Solidified The Backline
With Inter Miami coming off a run of good form, it's time to take a look at their defense and see how Phil Neville has made it work.
photo credit: Inter Miami CF
The key to Inter Miami's late-season resurgence may have been a change in formation.
Only losing two games since July 25th, Phil Neville has set up Miami in a way that gets the most of the roster.
It hasn't been pretty at times, but Neville and his coaching staff have got it done.
Here's how they did it.
At the start of the season, Neville consistently lined Inter Miami up in a 4-2-3-1. While, in theory, the formation made sense, Inter Miami does not have the players capable of playing that way.
A 4-2-3-1 requires balance; the two central midfielders are key in maintaining that.
When the front four push up in this formation, one central midfielder must drop back to maintain defensive superiority and to clog holes should the opposition spring a counter-attack.
Where Inter Miami fell short with the 4-2-3-1 is that there were frequent miscommunications in the middle that lead to opponents carving open the midfield.
Because of the channels that were left open, Miami's defenders would have to scramble back to put out fires.
After their 0-5 loss to the New England Revolution, Neville switched Inter Miami to a 3-4-2-1/5-3-2.
So far, the change has worked in Miami's favor.
Since that 0-5 drubbing, the Herons have only lost two of their last 12 games.
The shift to a back five has given Miami defensive solidity, while also adding some much-needed attacking fluidity.
When in possession, the team gets into a 3-2-5 shape:
In the build-up, Neville has Miami's two wing-backs (Kieran Gibbs, Brek Shea, Lewis Morgan, or Kelvin Leerdam) hug the touchline in order to provide width. When they do this, their wide forwards (Rodolfo Pizarro, Robbie Robinson, or Indiana Vassilev) will tuck inside creating a flat front five (see above.)
In the middle, in less creative roles, Blaise Matuidi and Gregore will act as screeners, basically cleaning up whatever loose ball comes their way to recycle possession.
To progress the ball forward, Miami build's out of the back.
Nico Figal, Christian Makoun and Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez, are excellent passers. Due to the trio's passing range, Miami isn't afraid of hitting diagonal long balls to find their wing-backs galloping into space:
This has been their "bread and butter" as of late.
Miami looks to catch their opponents off guard by having their wide players make runs in behind. Once they get into their opposition's final third, they look to strike quickly while the defense rushes to get back:
On the defensive side, it's quite simple; keep it tight and compact:
Miami falls back into a 5-4-1, limiting channels, and closing gaps through the middle. This forces their opponents out wide, daring them to cross. Should they cross the ball, the aerial threat of Gonzalez-Pirez or Makoun will easily deal with any incoming danger.
Since switching to a back five, Miami has managed to keep it compact while still maintaining an attacking edge. Though they did lose to the New York Red Bulls recently, their recent run of form has been due to Neville's tactical evolution.
Perhaps the most improved player on the roster has been U-21 Venezuelan international Christian Makoun. Coming off a rough 2020 season where he contracted COVID-19 and received little to no playing time, the 21-year-old was an afterthought under Diego Alonso.
With Phil Neville at the helm, the left-footed center-back has been a pivotal player during Miami's turnaround:
He's been a big reason why Miami has been able to claw themselves back into playoff contention.
Makoun has gone under the radar in comparison to his flashier counterparts, but his steady approach has been welcomed while playing next to defenders like Figal and Gonzalez-Pirez.
For as well as Makoun, Gonzalez-Pirez, and Figal have played together, unfortunately, this will likely be the last year the trio plays together.
According to The Athletic due to their upcoming sanctions, Inter Miami is looking to move on players like LGP and Figal:
There's a real possibility that Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez or Nico Figal won't be Inter Miami players next season.
That being said, Miami isn't short of options going into 2022.
The 20-year-old center-back Jairo Quinteros, who's out on loan, will be available for the team next season. Assuming Miami retains the Bolivia international, Quinteros would slot into one of the three center back positions on the backline.
There's also 23-year-old Aime Mabika.
Mabika has been a standout for Fort Lauderdale CF this season, and he's well on his way to becoming a first-team regular.
Though it will hurt losing either Gonzalez-Pirez or Figal, if Miami plays their cards right, the damage could be minimal.
Neville shifting Inter Miami to a back five has been a revelation. With the spot in the playoffs on the line, Miami will have to keep the faith and stick to basics if they want a chance at a top-seven finish.