As part of our review of the 2016-17 Chelsea Loan Report season, we’re focusing on ten of the 44 players who embarked upon temporary moves away from Stamford Bridge. The ten players have been selected as being amongst the most interesting of the group; be it for their proximity to the first-team squad under Antonio Conte, for the league they’re playing in, the progress they’ve made at a tender age, or simply because their situation warrants closer inspection, we’ll take a look at the year just gone, review the footage in depth, and take a moment to ponder what the future holds.
June 13th: Tammy Abraham
June 14th: Kasey Palmer
June 15th: Nathan Baxter
June 16th: Charly Musonda
June 17th: Michael Hector
June 18th: Lewis Baker
June 19th: Jeremie Boga
June 20th: Mario Pašalić
June 21st: Andreas Christensen
Today’s focus is on Matt Miazga.
– 29 appearances, 1 goal for Vitesse
What does he do well?
Miazga was made to wait until the very last minute for his loan move last summer and, when it came, it looked like it was an afterthought; that he was sent to Vitesse as there was nowhere else at that stage. Despite interest from fellow Premier League clubs, from the Bundesliga and from La Liga, Chelsea were unable to find a home for the American, and instead rushed through a move to Arnhem right at the end of the transfer window.
As it turns out it might have been the best thing for him. A reserve for more than half of the season, he capitalised on an injury to defender Maikel van der Werff and seized the opportunity to fill in with both hands, finishing the campaign as the undisputed first-choice partner to captain Guram Kashia at centre-back and lifting the Dutch Cup.
Despite his slow start, he quickly developed into a very reliable presence at the back, and whether it was coincidence or not Vitesse’s fortunes improved with him in the team. He outperformed Kashia in a number of key statistical areas (Kashia’s influence as leader and captain at the club carries its own immense value) and, impressively, he also performed as well or better in his overall duels, aerial duels, clearances and blocks than Ajax defenders Davinson Sanchez and Matthijs De Ligt.
A tall, robust defender with surprising athleticism for his size, his old-school credentials were rarely in question, but the rest of his game came long considerably as he got more and more minutes under his belt.
Where does he have room for improvement?
That in itself was the biggest reason for his struggles to break through in the first half of the season. Manager Henk Fraser offered plenty of insight in early April when he said Miazga “underestimated the Eredivisie a bit at the start. We ask for more from defenders than simply winning their battles. Our defenders have to set up the attack and pass the ball a lot. Matt worked on that and improved.”
The American himself admitted it was hard to come into a settled squad as late as he did and impress, whilst also adapting to a new culture and switching from right centre-back to left centre-back all at the same time. It’s to his credit that he got his head down and made breakthroughs, but there are still improvements to be made, particularly in the quality of the decisions he makes and then the execution of them. Dutch defenders are typically afforded a lot of time and space in which to operate – there is not typically a great deal of high pressing in the Eredivisie – and so he was able to come along at a fairly steady rate without feeling the same sort of pressure that he’ll come up against at higher levels. It’s a case of doing everything more efficiently, quickly, and smartly.
How does he fit into this Chelsea team?
Having never regularly played in a three-man defence, Miazga faces another learning curve if he’s to eventually impact upon Conte’s Chelsea in its current guise. Learning how to play on the left side of a partnership will be to his benefit; his playing style is reminiscent of Gary Cahill’s, and the captain also faced similar issues in switching earlier this season. He was able to adapt by leaning on plenty of experience, by defending deeper, and relying on help from those around him, and Miazga would have to hope for the same if pressed into similar duty.
He doesn’t currently have the requisite technical tools to properly partake in the Blues’ defensive build-up phase but would hardly be a liability if asked. Cesar Azpilicueta and David Luiz did the heavy lifting in that regard last season, showing that there are distinct roles available for all sorts of players under Conte. The Italian will figure out what you do well, ask you to do that and little more, and build the team around it. That not only bodes well for Miazga, but for many others like him.
What are his prospects for 2017-18?
A loan spell is almost certainly forthcoming once again, with Vitesse in talks to bring him back again, and interest coming from Hamburg in Germany this past week. The best move for him at this stage would be to a club that features a healthy dose of a three-man defence to further expand his schooling, and to encourage his technical development in starting the play from the back. Becoming a multi-tooled defender will do his club prospects no end of good, and will aid his international aspirations too, with the United States on course to qualify for the World Cup next summer.