“Jersey Strong” – USMNT’s Miazga aims to kick on at Chelsea

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LONDON — “Why would you step on the field and not want to be the best, you know?” Matt Miazga said, in a thick New Jersey accent.

“That’s the kind of mentality a lot of people have and that I have. I want to go on the pitch and be the best. I don’t want to be the worst, obviously. You have to go out there and be the best player. That’s it. It is definitely a goal of mine, to become the best American [player] and help Chelsea the best I can.”

Last weekend Miazga became the first American to play for Chelsea, and as he leant over to chat with me at Chelsea’s training ground a few days after that landmark moment, you could see he’s not yet fully developed and has plenty of time to grow into his frame and become an even more imposing central defender.

[ MORE: How’d Miazga do on debut? ]

There’s plenty more to come from him in and alongside Jordan Morris, Gedion Zelalem and Christian Pulisic, Miazga’s one of the great hopes for the next generation of U.S. national team players.

His debut was of huge excitement to fans of the U.S. national team who are trying hard not to get carried away with Miazga getting minutes in the Premier League.

[ WATCH: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

As you can tell, he’s not short on confidence. But then again, why should he be? At the moment Miazga must feel like he’s on top of the world. At the age of 20 he put in a mature, composed display in Chelsea’s 4-0 shellacking of Aston Villa as he continues his remarkably rapid rise to the top.

A native of Clifton, New Jersey, Miazga grew up to Polish parents and such were his talents the 6 foot 4 inch center back has been tailed by the Polish FA for many years, leading to an appearance for the U-18 squad and multiple call ups to their U-20 team which he declined.

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Miazga always knew he wanted to play for the U.S. national team and last November he made his debut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s side in a 2018 World Cup qualifier, cap-tying him with the USMNT.

“To be fair, I always envisaged myself playing for the U.S. national team,” Miazga explained. ”I had an opportunity for the Polish national team and have been in contact with their federation for years now and still have good connections with some people over there because I played with the U-18s. When the opportunity came with the U.S. I always knew this was what I wanted.”

And Miazga is a young man who certainly knows what he wants.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - APRIL 02: Matt Miazga of Chelsea and Rudy Gestede of Aston Villa during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Chelsea at Villa Park on April 2, 2016 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images)

After his speedy journey through the academy ranks with his hometown team the New York Red Bulls in Major League Soccer, Miazga had a standout 2015 MLS season under Jesse March’s Supporters Shield winners and was named in the Team of the Year in MLS. Despite lauding Marsch as “one of the best coaches I’ve had” and waxing lyrical about his attention to every single detail, he wanted to test himself in Europe as soon as possible.

When the chance arrived to join Chelsea in January, one of the biggest clubs in the world, Miazga grabbed it with both hands as the Blues are reported to have paid $5 million for the young American defender.

“There were teams interested and I always made it clear that my goal was to go to Europe when my contract finished with MLS,” Miazga said. “I was looking forward to it and I want to challenge myself, because I want to be the best player that I can be.”

Many believed Miazga would be loaned out to a smaller team across Europe – Chelsea currently has 33 young players out on loan – for the remainder of this season but he’s remained at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground and has gained valuable experience training with the first team, learning from veteran central defenders like John Terry, Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic.

After just one U-21 outing and a place on the bench as an unused sub for the first leg of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg game at Paris Saint-Germain, Miazga was thrust into the spotlight last weekend at Villa Park.

Interim Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink told him on the morning of the game he would make his Premier League and Chelsea debut as injuries to Terry, Cahill and Kurt Zouma had ravaged the Blues’ options in central defense.

“I was very happy to make my debut but I know there’s a lot more work to do and I am going to continue to work on the pitch and build for the future,” Miazga said. “It has been great [being at Chelsea], all the guys have been very welcoming. Training is top quality, obviously. There are world class players at this club. I feel like it has been going great and I feel like I’ve been getting better and I will continue to work hard to try and get better.”

“He had a proper game,” Hiddink said afterwards. “At a young age, he played with experience and was guided by the guys with experience.”

PRESTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 3: Matt Miazga of USA during the International friendly match between England U21 and USA U23 at Deepdale on September 3, 2015 in Preston, England. (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)

Miazga is focused and has that steely determination to overcome challenges put in front of him. If you will, he’s “Jersey Strong” and isn’t intent on just making up the numbers at Chelsea.

He admits he “never really idolized anyone” growing up but took little bits from the best center backs in the world, Terry being one of them, and is delighted to be learning from him in training. With Chelsea not having much to play for other than trying to finish in the top six in their remaining seven games of the PL season, Miazga is likely to get plenty more minutes to show what he can do and could start again against Swansea City this Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via Live Extra).

And when it comes to flying the American flag in England, he revealed his admiration for previous and current U.S. central defenders in the PL such as Carlos Bocanegra and Geoff Cameron who’ve blazed a trail for others to follow.

“Obviously you want to strive to get to the level that they’ve been at and there is always room for more,” Miazga said.

That determination and willingness to never settle for second best comes from his father, who Miazga calls “the biggest influence on his career” so far.

“He always pushes me and says there is always room for improvement, to never get too satisfied and to always improve. He is my biggest critic and still is today, so I value his opinion the most and try to make him happy and proud. I Facetimed with my family after my debut and he was happy I made my debut. But like I said… always room for improvement and never satisfied,” Miazga smiled.

What’s next for Miazga now he has his first minutes for Chelsea in the PL under his belt?

“I just want to continue to control what I can control,” Miazga said. “Which is to train my best, focus on myself and train the best I can train and if opportunities come I’ll be ready to contribute to the team.”

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 22: Kei Kamara #23 of the Columbus Crew SC heads the ball past Matt Miazga #20 of the New York Red Bulls during the first half on November 22, 2015 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

In his debut he looked composed on the ball, was always looking forward with his passes even if a few of the longer ones didn’t come off and made some key interceptions against Villa. Facing the bullish Rudy Gestede in aerial battles, Miazga got a quick lesson as to what the hustle and bustle of the PL is all about.

But it’s not just the atmosphere in and around the dressing room and on the pitch which has impressed him. The fan culture, compared to MLS, has been a huge eye-opener.

“The pace [compared to MLS] is one that stands out but in general, things off of the pitch,” Miazga explained. “The professionalism and the fans. It is all or nothing here. I have noticed in MLS that you have your supporters groups and it is more of a social event to go to games. But here the whole stadium is in tune and it is like life and death. Everyone is into it. Which I love. I love the passion.”

Miazga definitely has an old head on young shoulders as he gave diplomatic answers to other media outlets about the impending arrival of new manager Antonio Conte in the summer. Miazga confirmed the Chelsea players met Conte earlier this week but he’s taking one step at a time in his new adventure abroad.

That said, Miazga has fitted in rather well in England as he calls the game “football” instead of “soccer” and says it has always been like that due to his Polish roots. To keep things more familiar he chose to keep the number 20 when selecting his Chelsea squad number. He had that number with the Red Bulls and when asked why he chose it again, his answer was pretty pragmatic and came with a smile.

“Here it is the coincidence. I remember when I signed with the Red Bulls I wanted the lowest number available because I’m a defender. I signed mid-season, so a lot of those numbers were already taken. 20 was the lowest number available. So I was like, yeah I’ll just get 20. I picked 20 and stuck with it,” Miazga explained.

“I had chances to move to lower numbers as the seasons progressed in MLS but then I realized everyone already had my jersey and my family and friends and my number was 20… so I’ll keep it through my Red Bull career. So I came here and there were a few numbers available but I was like ‘20 has been serving me well, so I will just stick with it.’”

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Growing up, he’d hang out with his friends on the streets of New Jersey and would begrudgingly join in any pickup games of basketball or “the other football” but football always ran through his blood.

Just like it does for many in one of the biggest hotbeds of American soccer which has produced John Harkes, Tony Meola, Tab Ramos, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Giuseppe Rossi and countless others.

“In Jersey in general, football is pretty big there. Obviously you have California and Texas where they play a lot, but in Jersey they play football a lot as well,” Miazga said. “You can see some of the homegrown talents that came out of Jersey and hopefully there are many more that come out of there. “

He’s the latest and Jersey is never too far from Miazga’s mind and his Jersey accent is certainly a strong giveaway as to where he’s from.

For now though, he’s starting a new life in England and after four months in the capital he still lives in a hotel in London but is enjoying getting to know fellow youngsters thrust into the first team alongside him;, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Bertrand Traore and Baba Rahman.

He’s in no rush to find a more permanent place to live as he doesn’t plan on being in England much this summer. Making the USMNT’s Copa America Centenario squad is his main aim.

“Every time there is a national team window you want to be called up,” Miazga said.

Miazga also said he spoke extensively with USMNT head coach Klinsmann before making the move to Chelsea and received a text of congratulations from him after making his debut last weekend.

“I was actually in January camp with the national team when the move was being concluded. He knew it was in the works with me making a move to Europe, he was all for it obviously,” Miazga said. “Whatever I wanted to do, he was going to support me. Whether that was to stay in MLS or go abroad. He was very happy that a move to Chelsea transpired. Now I’ve just got to continue to work hard and show I can play for his national team.”

Chelsea's US defender Matt Miazga warms up before the English Premier League football match between Aston Villa and Chelsea at Villa Park in Birmingham, central England on April 2, 2016. / AFP / OLI SCARFF / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. / (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

Klinsmann’s advice to Miazga was clear: this is only the start of your journey.

“Like any other coach, he said work hard in training and keep trying to establish yourself,” Miazga said. “He said ‘You’re a young player, so just build for your future.’”

Miazga’s future prospects with the U.S. national team have certainly been boosted by making the most of his big chance at Chelsea so far.

His Chelsea debut came just four days after the disappointment of the U.S. U-23 side not qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in Rio this summer. Yet, Miazga was positive when asked if he and his teammates who failed to qualify for Rio, but shone at the U-20 World Cup last summer, could make the step up to the full national team soon.

“I think so, we have a lot of talented players who played in that U-20 World Cup and did fairly well. A lot of them play in some clubs here in Europe and have been getting minutes,” Miazga said. “Guys like Emerson Hyndman, Rubio Rubin and Kellyn Acosta, Cameron Carter-Vickers too. There are a lot of talented players. That whole team is very talented and there is definitely room to make the jump.”

Miazga is leading that pack who aim to jump into Klinsmann’s plans full –time but even after a wet and windy training session in suburban London, Jersey and the U.S. is never far from his mind.

“I have a lot of family there and I am very family orientated,” Miazga said. “I had a lot of friends growing up there that still live there today and are from Jersey and Clifton, but it was like being any typical American kid. You go to school. You have friends and you play organized sports and you have your family. I can’t complain… I love Jersey.”

Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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Matchweek 16 of the Premier League season is here, as the busy festive season has well and truly arrived.

Get in there.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ]

The full TV schedule for the games this weekend are below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today, Sky Sports News, NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” for all the goals as they go in around the grounds. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Everton v. Chelsea – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth v. Liverpool – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Tottenham v. Burnley – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Watford v. Crystal Palace – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Man City v. Man United – NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
9 a.m. ET: Aston Villa v. Leicester City – NBCSN [STREAM]
9 a.m. ET: Newcastle United v. Southampton  – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
11:30 a.m. ET: Brighton v. Wolves – NBCSN [STREAM]
9 a.m. ET: Norwich City v. Sheffield United – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Monday
3 p.m. ET: West Ham v. Arsenal – NBCSN [STREAM]

The 2 Robbies podcast: Analyzing chaos at Everton, Arsenal

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In the latest The 2 Robbies podcast, Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle discuss Everton’s decision to sack Marco Silva after their 5-2 defeat to Liverpool in the Merseyside Derby (0:50), Arsenal’s shocking defeat at home to Brighton (14:00) and Tottenham’s 2-1 loss to Manchester United in the Jose Mourinho’s return to Old Trafford thanks to a brace from Marcus Rashford (22:25).

Plus, thoughts on Gabriel Jesus‘ long-term role at Manchester City (29:00), Jamie Vardy and Leicester City can’t stop winning (35:10), back to winning ways for Chelsea (39:00) and the Underappreciated Performances of the week (43:40).

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow them on Twitter @The2RobbiesNBC here.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Projected lineups: Man City v. Man United

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A feisty Manchester Derby takes center stage at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) as Man City and Man United need the points for their respective title and top four bids.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

With key players missing or injury doubts for both teams, there is plenty of debate about who will line up for Man City and Man United.

Below we look at how Pep Guardiola and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should set up their teams and give our own analysis of the situation.


Man City

—– Ederson —–

— Walker — Stones — FernandinhoAngelino

—- Rodri —- Silva —-

—- Bernardo —- De Bruyne —- Sterling —-

—– Jesus —–


Man United

—– De Gea —–

— Wan-Bissaka — Lindelof — Maguire — Young —

—- McTominay —- Fred —-

— James — Lingard — Rashford —

—– Martial —–


Analysis: Man City have a few big decisions to make in defense, with either John Stones or Nicolas Otamendi expected to partner Fernandinho at center back, with Otamendi likely to get the nod after playing against Burnley in midweek. At full back Pep has been rotating his options with Angelino maybe edging ahead of Mendy, while Walker seems to be winning the battle with Cancelo. For now. Midfield picks itself with Rodri the holder and Kevin De Bruyne playing ahead of him, but the big decisions is who out of David Silva and Ilkay Gundogan starts alongside Rodri. Up top Riyad Mahrez is pushing Bernardo Silva for a start with Raheem Sterling on the other flank and Gabriel Jesus continuing up top with Aguero out injured.

Given their injury issues, which have eased a little, Man United’s lineup choices are a little simpler. De Gea will have Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire and probably Young ahead of him, while McTominay’s return in midfield is a big boost and he will likely line up with Fred. Up top they are sweating on the fitness of Anthony Martial who missed the midweek win against Tottenham and is questionable to start, but Rashford, Lingard and James are expected to start behind either Martial or Mason Greenwood.

Brendan Rodgers signs new contract at Leicester

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Brendan Rodgers has been rewarded for his incredible start to the 2019-20 season with Leicester City, with the club extending his stay in charge by three-and-a-half years to 2025.

The Northern Irishman has signed a new five-and-a-half year contract with the Foxes, as he’s led them to second place in the table through the opening 15 games of the Premier League season as they’ve won seven in a row.

Rodgers had been linked with the vacant position at Arsenal in recent days and seemed to confirm that there was a release fee of $18 million in his old Leicester contract. It is believed that clause has either been removed or the amount has been increased substantially.

Rodgers spoke to the media about his decision to sign a new deal with the Foxes and believes there is plenty more to come as they aim to secure a return to the UEFA Champions League.

“It’s something we’ve been speaking about for a few weeks. I’m delighted to commit the next five-and-a-half years to here,” Rodgers said. “I was honored that the club was happy with our work since we came in. I’ve got a great team here at the stadium and the training ground. My commitment is to the players and the team. The key thing for me was the potential here at Leicester City. Since we came in we’ve identified a way of playing that improves the players and gets results.”

After joining Leicester from Celtic in February in a midseason move which was lambasted by many, Rodgers has 17 wins from 26 Premier League matches in charge with Jamie Vardy, James Maddison, Caglar Soyuncu, Wilfred Ndidi and Youri Tielemans in particular playing superbly since he arrived at the King Power Stadium.

Rodgers has the Foxes playing with an increased swagger on the ball but they have also kept their ruthless streak as Vardy has scored in each of his last seven goals (netting nine times in that run) and leads the PL with 14 goals this season.

It may be too much for Leicester to push Liverpool all the way for the Premier League title this season — they are currently eight points behind the league leaders — but with Rodgers locked down to a new deal and so many young players in incredible form, the future is very bright for the Foxes.

Leicester seem set to become genuine top four contenders for the next few seasons, at least, and locking Rodgers into this deal sets everything up.