Saturday, April 13, 2024

Inter Miami lose first game of season with Lionel Messi resting but show growth without Argentina superstar

Last season, Inter Miami looked lost without Lionel Messi on the pitch and despite their undefeated start to the season coming to an end in a 3-2 loss against CF Montreal on Sunday, signs of progress are there. It wasn’t a pretty match at times as Miami’s passing was out of sync but they showed fight through to come back and push for a point. Set plays are still an issue as two of Montreal’s three goals came from deadball situations but to go toe-to-toe with a likely playoff team without Messi is a positive result.

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While the goals may have come without him on the pitch, part of Miami’s inventiveness came from Federico Redondo. Starting at the base of Miami’s midfield as Sergio Busquets began the game on the bench, Redondo, who just joined from Argentinos Juniors, looked like a more mobile enforcer from deep in midfield. Spraying long passes while also going on controlled runs, there was a moment where he, Julian Gressel and Robert Taylor moved the ball quickly up the pitch but were denied by the post.

Those moments didn’t exist previously when Messi wasn’t on the pitch and the Herons learned the price of that as two victories over Charlotte FC last season would’ve seen them make playoffs but maximizing the non-Messi minutes will be critical to staying atop the league. Work needs to be done and some of why Redondo looked so good is that Montreal aren’t a pressing team so he had space to operate but with this being only his second game with Miami, inventiveness will grow as he becomes more familiar with his teammates. 

Soccer is in Redondo’s blood as his father Fernando Redondo starred for Real Madrid as a defensive midfielder and he’s picked up plenty. Unfortunately, he alone can’t patch the holes in Miami’s set-play defense but as long as the Herons can continue putting the ball in the back of the net, some defensive frailty can be overlooked. The Herons did win the xG battle with 2.77 to Montreal’s 2.09 but the cohesion between substitutes is what will be needed to perform up to xG without Messi and Luis Suarez.

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If more players are added it will only enhance what Miami can do over the course of the season as depth is thin without DeAndre Yedlin now after the American was traded to FC Cincinnati. This is a playoff team but if they’re going to win the Supporters’ Shield as well, competing during the season while using at least 20 players will be important. In most games, Messi and Suarez can paper over poor performances for the Herons but the less that they’re needed on nights off, the better for their long-term future.

As more time goes on, we also get closer to the return of Benjamin Cremaschi which will bring a key attacking dynamic back to the midfield. Building from poor performances like this and making sure that they don’t happen again are what great teams do so for Tata Martino and Inter Miami, the next few weeks are about showing that they’re a great team no matter who is on the pitch.

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