Inter Miami

Phil Neville says Gonzalo Higuain absence helped Leonardo Campana play with more freedom

Chris Smith
Campana's hat-trick delivered a 3-2 win over the Revs for Inter Miami.
Campana's hat-trick delivered a 3-2 win over the Revs for Inter Miami. / Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Phil Neville believes the absence of Gonzalo Higuain allowed fellow striker Leonardo Campana to play with more freedom in Inter Miami's 3-2 win over the New England Revolution.

The Herons were struggling heading into the match with just one point from their opening five games, only scoring a single non-penalty goal during that time.

But Higuain sat out Saturday's match with a knee injury and, in his absence, Campana scored a perfect hat-trick (left foot, right foot, header) to inspire Miami to their first win of the 2022 MLS season.

Speaking to reporters during a midweek press conference, Neville admitted the absence of Higuain - the third-highest paid player in MLS - was to Campana's benefit.

“He played a lot freer without Gonzalo in the team because he was the man, sometimes center forwards need to be that person everyone looks to and relies on for goals,” Neville said. “What we saw Saturday was somebody willing to take on that mantle of being the main guy, the main No. 9 on the team. With four goals already this season, he’s someone that’s going to be really exciting."

On loan from Premier League side Wolves, Campana has been one of the few bright sparks in a tough opening to the season for Miami. And Neville believes there is much more to come from the Ecuador international.

“He’s got everything you’d want in a good old-fashioned center forward you see in England. Size, stature, physique, the ability to dominate center backs," he added. "He’s still getting adjusted to the league and I think there’s another 15 to 20 percent still to come. His finishing is as good as it comes.”

As for how he'll decide between Campana and Higuain for the starting spot up-front for Inter Miami, Neville stated:

“The best team to win the game plays. What we saw on Saturday was 11 players plus the three subs all headed in the same direction, working hard, staying together, sticking to the game plan. And that’s going to be the order of the day from now until the end of the season. We’ve found a formula now that is non-negotiable.”

Up next for Neville's side is a tough away trip to the Seattle Sounders on Saturday.