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Lionel Messi

Preview: Nashville vs Inter Miami – prediction, team news, line-ups

Inter Miami’s rise to prominence after Lionel Messi’s blockbuster arrival in Florida faces the ultimate test as they head to Geodis Park to encounter Nashville in a heavily anticipated Leagues Cup final.

The two sides seeking a first piece of major silverware in their relatively short history collide in an all-Major League Soccer (MLS) showpiece on August 20, 2.00 am BST.

Nashville became an MLS franchise in 2020 after spending two years in the USL Championship, the second-tier competition in the United States and Canada

Despite being new to the top-flight challenges, Gary Smith’s men have taken quickly to their underdog status in the MLS, taking the league by storm as they’ve qualified for the play-offs in all three seasons.

Smith has had immense help from the club-record goalscorer Hany Mukhtar, whose standout scoring exploits earned him the MLS MVP award last season. 

Mukhtar has netted 65 goals in 119 appearances for Nashville to become one of the most feared forwards in North America until Messi touched down in Fort Lauderdale last month.

Gerardo Martino’s appointment as the new chief of staff at DRV PNK Stadium has triggered a chain of events in Florida, culminating with the arrivals of Messi, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba. 

Unprepared for such a formidable football force, North American clubs have been falling like dominoes at the feet of the former Barcelona trio during this summer’s Leagues Cup. 

While Miami sleepwalked to the bottom of the Eastern Conference before reassembling the ex-Barca band, there’s a new dawn on the horizon, starting with the upcoming final. 

Match Preview

After demolishing Minnesota United and Monterrey by an aggregate score of 7-0 in the two previous knockout rounds, Nashville will unlikely be fazed by the odds pilling against them. 

In addition to gathering momentum following a troubling Leagues Cup start, the Boys in Gold can rely on a traditionally reverberant atmosphere at Geodis Park to carry them to the biggest win in the club’s history. 

To begin with, only three teams have come to Tennessee in the past year and walked away victorious. And on top of that, Smith’s men have battered Inter in three of their four previous home meetings (D1).

Messi has been unplayable in the Leagues Cup so far, but Nashville’s defensive pairing – Lukas MacNaughton and Walker Zimmerman – have proved reliable on multiple fronts this year.

Miami have drawn a blank in three of their four previous MLS visits to Nashville, but it was before they recruited Messi, who has been the X-factor in the Leagues Cup. 

To put the Messi effect into context, the Herons scored 22 goals in their last 22 matches before the Argentine’s arrival. It’s taken them only six to reach that threshold with the World Cup winner in the starting line-up. 

Eight of those 22 goals have come from the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, who already has four braces in just six appearances for Martino’s resurgent side.

Four has been Miami’s magic number with Messi, as they’ve hit that milestone in four of their last five outings, including a 4-1 romping of last season’s MLS Cup finalists Philadelphia Union in the semi-finals

Team News

With DeAndre Yedlin and Alba rewinding the clock a decade, Miami’s flanks have been too hot to handle in recent games. 

Jozef Martinez and Messi are scoring for fun, while Robert Taylor and Busquets keep the midfield ticking like a Swiss watch. 

They’ve been the backbone of Miami’s stellar Leagues Cup run, and there’s no reason for Martino to make any changes in the final. 

The same goes for Nashville boss Smith. He has found a perfect balance between a water-tight backline and a free-flowing attack, as evidenced by the abovementioned wins against Minnesota and Monterrey.

Mukhtar has finally got adequate support up front in the shape of former Bournemouth forward Sam Surridge, with the Englishman bagging three goals in as many appearances upon his £5 million move across the ocean.

Inter Miami potential starting line-up:

(4-3-3): Drake Callender; DeAndre Yedlin, Kamal Miller, Serhiy Kryvtsov, Jordi Alba; Dixon Arroyo, Sergio Busquets, Benjamin Cremaschi; Robert Taylor, Lionel Messi, Jozef Martinez.

Nashville potential starting line-up:

(4-4-1-1): Elliot Panicco; Daniel Lovitz, Walker Zimmerman, Lukas MacNaughton, Shaq Moore; Jacob Shaffelburg, Anibal Godoy, Dax McCarty, Alex Muyl; Hany Mukhtar; Sam Surridge.

We Say: Nashville 1-2 Inter Miami

While it’s hard to put it past Messi to lead Miami to another poker of goals, it’s more likely the Herons will take a more conservative approach, considering what’s at stake.

But another brace is the bare minimum we expect from Martino’s high-flyers in this potentially historic fixture. 

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