Matt Miazga's Chelsea debut 'a good first step,' says Guus Hiddink
BIRMINGHAM -- Matt Miazga admitted he was pleased to get through his Chelsea debut in "cruise control" after the Blues ran out 4-0 winners over Aston Villa, with Guus Hiddink calling it a "good first step."
The 20-year-old, a January signing from MLS franchise New York Red Bulls, capitalised on injuries to John Terry and Gary Cahill to earn a surprise starting spot alongside Branislav Ivanovic at the heart of Chelsea's defence at Villa Park.
Goals from Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Alexandre Pato and a second-half double from Pedro Rodriguez wrapped up a comfortable win for the Blues to preserve their unbeaten Premier League run in 2016, while Miazga claimed a clean sheet after a relatively untroubled introduction to English football.
"The pace is definitely much faster [than MLS], but as soon as we scored the first goal we took control of the game," Miazga said after the match. "It was kind of cruise control and all I had to do was spray the ball into the midfielders. My job was just to stay focused on defence.
"This is the highest level. Leading up to professional games you're always a bit nervous and anxious, but once you get onto the pitch it's business."
Chelsea interim manager Hiddink said he was pleased with the way Miazga stepped up to Premier League intensity against Villa, but believes the promising U.S. international still has significant elements of his game to work on.
"To be honest this wasn't the toughest game," Hiddink admitted. "You have to consider also when a real good war is going on how you cope with that, but it's a good first step up for him.
"He's coming from a league that is a bit naive compared to the Premier League, and he has to get used to a little more freedom given to the attackers by the referees, which I like. He has to cope with a little bit of a shuffle, of a push that in other leagues the referee would give free kicks for. That's the naivety he has to leave as soon as possible but I didn't see much of that [against Aston Villa]."
Asked if Miazga needed to learn how to become more "streetwise" on the pitch to succeed at Premier League level, Hiddink replied: "That's maybe the word."
Miazga is regarded as a long-term development project at Stamford Bridge, but earlier this week Hiddink suggested that "there might be some time for experiments" in the final weeks of Chelsea's Premier League campaign, and the 20-year-old is hopeful of gaining more first-team experience in the coming weeks.
"This club has brilliant players -- world-class, experienced players and also young and up-and-coming players like Ruben [Loftus-Cheek] and Jake [Clarke-Salter] that train with the first team," Hiddink added. "The club's in good hands so we've just got to work hard on the training pitch, focus on ourselves and contribute in any way we can.
"I just control what I can control, which is to work hard in training and hopefully give the manager a decision to make. If I get chances, I'll take them."
Fellow January arrival Pato scored from the penalty spot on his long-awaited debut for Chelsea in Saturday's victory, while academy prospect Clarke-Salter also came off the substitutes' bench to make his first senior appearance.
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.