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Red Bulls Tactical Sips: Inter Miami

What to expect on the field as the league’s most expensive disaster comes to Harrison this weekend

Inter Miami CF v CF Montreal
Gonzalo Higuain has been forced to play largely by himself this year in Miami’s dysfunctional setup
Photo by Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images

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

Starfleet captain Jean-Luc Picard once said it is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. The New York Red Bulls committed quite a few mistakes and drew with the Philadelphia Union, so perhaps the club should be satisfied with the point. The strain of a roster overhaul and injury crisis will lead to some bothersome outcomes, sometimes as silly as surrendering a lead while up a man.

Looking to break out of decidedly mediocre form, what Gerhard Struber’s team needs is some confidence. Thankfully, the Tweedle brothers are skipping down the road, wearing Inter Miami and Toronto FC jerseys. Enjoying a five-match losing streak, the Herons are cruising toward finishing last in the league, a dismal group that cannot manage to score or defend. Their foul luck should continue at Red Bull Arena, but the monotonous and meaningless summer of the MLS season has been known to produce a shock result.

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

THE OPPORTUNITY TO PRESS HIGHER

At times, the designation of “high press” can be a bit of a misnomer. The Red Bulls thrive in the middle section of the field, disrupting the opponent at an incredible rate. This, of course, makes some amount of sense because even the most devout of possession teams will eventually depart the defensive third and attempt to move forward. While appearing to be a wild hunt for the ball, the pursuit of turnovers is measured and disciplined, initially focused on not overrunning the passing lanes or overcommitting to tackles.

This week, the Red Bulls might be able to be a bit more daring than against other teams. The line of engagement should be as far up the field as possible because opposing manager Phil Neville is practically begging opponents to take advantage. Miami is, in a word, lazy. The midfielders rarely check back to aid in possession, leaving the back line to fend for itself when under pressure. Counter attacks are met with a half-hearted attempt to return back and help out, the laziest of reinforcements seeming unconcerned with establishing numeric superiority and overloading the box. Of course, the defenders also rarely step to the ball or track runners, so the problems are likely more of a holistic nature.

HIGUAIN, I GUESS?

Sucking on a cigarette or not, Gonzalo Higuain is at least providing some of the on-field production demanded of a Designated Player. Four non-penalty goals on 91 shots will not set the league on fire, but at least it’s enough to land tenth on the league chart. The 33-year-old former Argentina international is often receiving the ball in an uncomfortable position, required to create his own shot as his hapless teammates make confounding runs to nowhere. Sometimes the only thing to be done is a speculative solo effort, an occasional threat that can only be provided with any regularity by a player of his quality.

Other than Higuain, no other Miami player has scored more than a single goal. That is to be expected for a team averaging less than one finish per game. The majority of the forays tend to emanate from the right side of the field, almost solely influenced by holding midfielder Gregore (two assists, 67 passes into the final third) and attacker Lewis Morgan (31 key passes, 14 passes into the box). Also, expect most of this attacking to come straight down the middle, as the club is near the bottom of the league in crosses, potentially delivering the lamb straight into the lion’s den that is the center of the Red Bulls’ formation.

PHYSICAL MATCH

The Fourth of July weekend may be long over, but expect some fireworks nonetheless. Inter Miami has a tendency for physical play of a sporadic nature. Despite being middle of the pack in fouls committed and not contesting many aerial duels, the Herons lead MLS in yellow cards.

Some light viewing of previous matches explains this statistical aberration. Miami is simply undisciplined, with every match appearing to have at least one, if not several, outward displays of aggression. Opponents are yanked to the ground, rash tackles are distributed, and challengers cannot jump without being jabbed by an elbow. Naturally, the players receiving these yellows can hardly understand why they have been so unjustly persecuted by the referee.

The Red Bulls’ style of play can lead to some frustration from opponents, the pressure system doling out its own share of momentum-killing fouls. These are two competing styles of physicality, the disciplined jabber against the emotional uppercut swinger. The summer heat will have already frayed collective self-control, potentially leading to those delightful shoving matches and technical box debates.

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