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Red Bulls Tactical Sips: Inter Miami

New York will be hoping to repeat last month’s 4-0 blowout

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Inter Miami CF
Even Fabio was able to score a brace against a sorry Miami side last month.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

New York Red Bulls Tactical Sips: Inter Miami CF

Welcome to Tactical Sips, a semi-regular pre-match post featuring taurine-spiked breakdowns of the upcoming game.

The New York Red Bulls are officially in the playoff race. Fresh off a 1-0 win over FC Cincinnati, Gerhard Struber is gearing up for the familiar fight of staying above the line. The stakes are far lower than a relegation battle, but the challenge is still the same. There are seven matches to make up ground, overcoming the existing six-point margin between the haves and the have nots. Near impeccable form is demanded, following fervent fancy that foul fate finds the front-running foes.

The desperate run at glory starts with a visit from Inter Miami. Despite a solid run of form and talk of finally being not terrible, Phil Neville’s side proved to be a bit of an imposter, reeling off four straight losses. The last time these two teams met, the Red Bulls grabbed a 4-0 win to start the current unbeaten streak. Perhaps the lucky shoe will return to the other foot, but that sounds pretty uncomfortable.

Let’s dive into the shallow depths. Here are three things to watch.

CROSSES AND SET PIECES

Of the last 11 goals surrendered by Inter Miami in the past four matches, a whopping total of eight have come from set pieces and centering passes. Perhaps most concerning is that many of the crosses are starting from inside the box, with opponents achieving an unbelievable amount of penetration and having the time to pick out a teammate at the back post. There is also the inability to clear the ball, which allows for second chances, a hallmark of bad teams. Declining or nonexistent sanitation systems have halted the growth of many a burgeoning empire.

The Red Bulls’ ability to exploit this weakness diminishes greatly with the absence of Fábio. The striker has missed three matches with an injury, allowing for the proliferation of the one-striker formation while removing another dangerous target in the box. This is a match that calls for direct play, constantly pushing the tempo to take advantage of a weakened opponent, but a chess match can be difficult to win with checkers pieces.

At the beginning of the season, a focus appeared to be placed on crossing, as would be expected from a Gerhard Struber team. The return of Tom Edwards to the fullback position should have triggered a rebirth of this strategy, as the Englishman is known for his abilities in the final third. The apparent preference that Patryk Klimala has for the ball to remain on the ground has lessened the proliferation of aerial passes, but perhaps the focus will return for at least one match against a highly susceptible Inter Miami.

STRAIGHT UP THE MIDDLE

Miami is not only terrible at dealing with crosses, but the team also cannot stop opponents from sprinting through the midfield, particularly in transition. “Sprinting” may be overstating the force required to travel into the final third. Ease, amble, skip might be better descriptions because there is nothing slowing down the flow of an attack.

For a team that plays a highly-centralized 3-4-2-1 formation, there is a distinct lack of clog in that midfield. Hardy six Gregore certainly does his best, but there is not a lot of help available. When he partners with Blaise Matuidi, proceedings can become a little grim, as the former French international is not altogether interested in the physical work. Jay Chapman reduces the attacking prowess and adds a little more grit, but the act of benching Designated Players is rarely practiced long-term, certainly not by Galáctico-type clubs. When the latter two are partnered up, the results are decidedly not great. Three different options and none of them work together, like the last decade of NBC’s comedy lineup.

In the last match between the two sides, the Red Bulls played 51 passes that entered the final third, the highest this season by far. While the attack may not quite match that level of dominance, a similar performance should be expected. Miami is reeling and unable to stop much of anything.

OMIR THE STRIKER?

Omir Fernandez is listed as a midfielder and supposedly deployed as such, although his actions and movements appear to be those of a striker. Three goals and zero assists in five matches certainly support the charitable suggestion of a hybrid role. His various positioning charts indicate that perhaps one does not need to be at least 6’ tall to succeed up top in Gerhard Struber’s system.

Here is the passing breakdown for the match against Philadelphia Union, during which Fernandez played a fairly high line (via MLSSoccer.com).

Here is a heatmap from the same fixture, followed by those of Patryk Klimala and Cristian Cásseres Jr., if you’d like to compare (via WhoScored).

Here is the passing matrix for the match against FC Cincinnati. The formation is different, but Fernandez is still fairly advanced (via MLSSoccer.com).

Once again, here are the relevant heatmaps for him but also Patryk Klimala, Frankie Amaya, and Wikelman Carmona (via WhoScored).

Notice how much further up the field Fernandez tends to be involved. He is significantly more active in the final third than his expected comparative players, other attacking midfielders. His contributions in the build-up are conversely meager, playing half as many passes as Cásseres in fewer minutes against Philadelphia. The Cincinnati match featured a similar output, with Amaya handling more build-up and creative responsibilities.

Formations and positions really don’t matter. What is important is a player’s role, which includes inherent responsibilities and the maximum personal influence without detracting from the team’s overall objectives. Don’t fall victim to the world’s ceaseless efforts to categorize and define everything. Fernandez may be a midfielder, a striker, a trequartista, a fantasista, or a Weeble Wobble, but, regardless of whatever designation is thrust upon him, his current success is worth appreciating.

What tactical storylines are you expecting to play out in the match? Let us know in the comment section.