Good news for Matt Miazga and Nantes: both started 2019 with a win. Les Canaris breezed past Chateauroux with a 4-1 victory to secure passage to the round of 32 of the Coupe de France.
Miazga started the match - his first minutes for the Nantes first team since October - and played the full 90.
The start and the positive result are encouraging for Miazga, who seemed to have fallen so far out of favor at Nantes that it had appeared likely his loan from Chelsea would be terminated during the January transfer window.
That may yet happen. This start was not exactly a resounding vote of confidence: head coach Vahid Halilhodzic took the game against lower-division opposition as an opportunity to have a look at a number reserves and emerging players.
Still, there is some evidence to suggest Miazga may be creeping back into favor at Nantes. He started the season as a regular starter for the Ligue 1 side, but poor results saw Halilhodzic step in as head coach in October, and Miazga did not impress during the 3-0 loss to Bordeaux that was the new manager’s first game in charge. There followed a six-game unbeaten run during which Miazga was a spectator, and he remained firmly on the sidelines even when results dipped in December.
A Chelsea visit to Nantes toward the end of 2018 was widely thought to signal the beginning of the end of Miazga’s time at the club. But it also seems to have jogged Halilhodzic into taking another look at the American center-back. Miazga hadn’t even been making the bench for weeks, but he popped up in the match-day 18 for Nantes’ last game of 2018, against PSG.
Now he has started Nantes’ first game of 2019 and, unlike the last time he started for Halilhodzic, he contributed to a win.
It is too early to say whether this is the start of Miazga’s return to form and favor at Nantes: he has started what was more or less a reserve-team game. Up next for Les Canaris is a string of significant league matches. The team is currently 14th in Ligue 1, on the cusp of being sucked into a relegation battle. Home games against Montpellier and Rennes will be followed by trips to fellow mid-table stragglers Nimes and Angers. Selection for any of those games will be a more substantive vote of confidence.
The most likely explanation for Miazga’s sudden return to the starting lineup is that his coach was keeping first-teamers fresh for the big league matches ahead. But all any player can do is try to make the best of the opportunities they are given. If Halilhodzic saw reason to invest a little more confidence in Miazga’s ability after watching him for 90 minutes against Chateauroux, then it is still possible there will be a happier ending to the season for the young American than previously expected.