Analyzing Inter Miami: Pizarro's improved performance, determined defending, and more
Three takeaways from Inter Miami's stunning 1-0 road win over the New England Revolution
If there was any lingering doubt over the lack of chemistry between Rodolfo Pizarro and Gonzalo Higuain, this past Sunday made things crystal clear.
Inter Miami closed out the 2021 season in a more positive manner over the weekend after stunning the New England Revolution, 1-0, and one of the biggest subplots of the road victory was how much better Pizarro looked without Higuain on the field. The Mexican lined up alongside striker Julian Carranza in head coach Phil Neville’s 5-3-2 formation, but was tasked with dropping into deeper spots and given the freedom to roam around the field to try and generate attacking sequences.
Pizarro in essence became the team’s fulcrum, with almost everything going through him. Not only did that see the 27-year-old attacker get more touches in (57, the second-highest total on Inter Miami in this match) than he normally has when playing next to Higuain, but Pizarro also looked much more confident and engaged while progressing the ball forward with his flicked and short-range passes.
“I thought Pizarro tonight was our best player,” said Neville. “I am not so sure how we played, but the qualities I saw, I saw somebody who could probably captain this team with his performance tonight. He led, he took the ball, the ball stuck with him, he wanted to fight for the team, he got involved a little bit of a melee and he took them all on.
“…He played with a real fight and aggression and spirit.”
Those types of qualities have largely been missing from Pizarro ever since Higuain’s arrival to South Florida in September 2020. Prior to that, Pizarro was the player Inter Miami looked at to be the go-to guy and he did a decent though not great job of filling that role. When Higuain entered the fray, however, Pizarro’s impact not coincidentally diminished.
It has become increasingly evident over the course of the year that the two Designated Players just do not click nor complement one another. Further proof of this is how Pizarro, albeit somewhat fortunately, got the assist in Sunday’s winner by occupying an advanced area on the field that he has mostly been moved away from this season due to Higuain’s presence. (Not to mention Pizarro’s social media activity post-game.)
This is not to say that if Higuain was not around, Pizarro would be one of the best No. 10s in MLS. He still leaves plenty to be desired in terms of his vision and creativity, and that combined with his physical limitations make him a bit of a luxury player in a league in which you really need to maximize your big-money signings.
That said, there is no denying that he and Higuain just do not work well together since they both like to be heavily involved in the run of play. Given that there are only so many touches to go around, expect one if not both to leave the team this winter.
Determined, disciplined defending paved way for success
Inter Miami was not the better team on the balance of play. The Revolution had much more possession, finished with significantly more shots, and, truthfully, were probably unlucky not to walk away with at least one point.
That the Herons managed to hold the first-placed side without a goal, however, was in large part due to the dogged and disciplined defending displayed over the course of the 90 minutes. Led by the excellent play of Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Nicolas Figal in addition to getting some good saves from John McCarthy, the South Florida side never made life easy on the Revolution and avoided making the type of mistakes that has cost Inter Miami so many games in the past.
The Supporters’ Shield winners still created some good looks via the stellar likes of Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou, but the commitment to defend and determined effort put forth from Carranza to Blaise Matuidi to Lewis Morgan and the rest of the team paved the way for the impressive clean sheet. This, in a game that could have easily been overlooked given that it had no meaning for the already-eliminated visitors.
“We demonstrated that when all the players look to be united and play together we can compete at a high level,” said team captain Gregore in Portuguese.
Late switch to 5-4-1 formation could be sneak peak at 2022
One development from this campaign closer that was not insignificant and that could be a preview of what is to come from Inter Miami next year is the late formation change to the 5-4-1.
Aiming to protect the 1-0 lead during the final quarter hour, Neville moved his side into a very defensive posture that saw all 11 players drop behind the ball at times in an attempt to close down the spaces at the back. The pragmatic approach did not make for very pretty soccer from Inter Miami, but it was effective in grinding out the result as the block of nine (the five-man defense and four-man midfield) frustrated the Revolution down the stretch by limiting the areas the hosts could play through.
It is known that Neville’s side will be hamstrung a bit in 2022 because of financial sanctions, meaning that being a bit more cynical at the end of matches in which Inter Miami leads may be what is needed to close things out and secure the points.
“When we scored the goal, I have got to say I went into probably thinking, ‘Next year this is what we are going to be,’ and we went to 5-4-1,” said Neville. “We said, ‘Let’s just dig it out,’ because it was almost a practice. On the technical bench we were talking about what should we do and we said, ‘Let’s change the mindset. Let’s just practice something now that (allows us to) hang on at 1-0. ‘
“That is what the best teams do: win the games 1-0 , win ugly, and move on. We went from 77 minutes until the end of the game with almost a look at what we probably could do next year in terms of setting up shop.”