While he’s definitely not one of the highest profile transfers Chelsea have made of late, the capture of Malo Gusto is certainly one filled with upside.
Signing in a £26.30 million deal back in January from Olympique Lyonnais before being loaned back to Les Gones, the athletic, attackingly geared wide defender will give new manager Mauricio Pochettino some valuable squad depth and quality.
Set to initially begin as an accomplished back-up to injury prone star Reece James, this should work ideally to start with while he adjusts to life at Stamford Bridge and adapts to the demands of the Premier League.
An extremely talented player who offers plenty on both sides of the ball, it’ll be fascinating seeing how the gifted 20-year-old fares. “I chose Chelsea because it’s a very big club and I like the project. Very happy to be here. I play right-back, I’m a fast player, crosser and box-to-box defender. I like the city. I am really, really happy to come here,” he explained on his arrival.
To start with his offensive output, and this is undoubtedly the most formidable component of his game.
Extremely comfortable in possession and able to cope with pressure smoothly, there’s no denying his aptitude here owes plenty to him formerly playing as a midfielder.
Technically sound, plus boasting a neat first touch and crisp control, Gusto’s ball carrying ensure he causes major issues for opponents, for he can outfox them with neat shimmies, shoulder drops, nifty alterations in pace and sharp changes of direction to gain the necessary separation to wreak havoc.
In addition, his strength and balance on the dribble holds him in good stead to ride challenges, keep his momentum and win fouls in promising areas when frustrated foes recklessly apply challenges.
The speedy dynamo, who’s fleet of foot and fast of mind, accompanies the aforementioned with his progressive passing. A huge weapon with his measured crosses and cutbacks, the starlet is a frequent chance creator courtesy of his prowess here.
Alert to the runs of teammates, this, in combination with his vision, two-footedness, reading of situations and execution, means he excels at pinpointing his targets. Capable of finding colleagues centrally, at the back or front post and when they’re surging into the area from deep, this aspect of his game is a key string to his bow.
Picking his types of deliveries coherently, it’s notable how he can hit driven, whipped, curling and looping crosses depending on the situation he’s confronted with.
Although he’s shown he can feed runners with precise through balls in behind and down the channels, engage in tidy combination play and smartly find teammates infield between the lines and in the half spaces, his distribution from wide zones is where he excels.
Relishing every opportunity to maraud upfield to stretch backlines horizontally and vertically, his booming runs provide so much attacking impetus so he can get in behind, be isolated 1v1 and draw adversaries to generate room for others.
In addition, how he offers good support in build-up, helps form overloads wide, can rotate craftily with teammates and embarks on the odd underlap adds to his worth going forward.
Not as elite on the defensive end despite still being a handy contributor, this is a compartment he’ll be looking to hone his craft in.
To focus on the things he does well, it’s fantastic to see him anticipate danger and back himself to press and counterpress his prey to regain possession or force errors.
Proactive, confident and on the front foot, his approach deserves to be admired even if he gets caught out at times, for he chimes in with vital interventions and prevents counters notably.
It’s worth mentioning how he uses his legs to reach in, arms and upper body to destabilise foes and overall strength to make life difficult for opponents.
Some areas he’ll want to improve on is his 1v1 defending, tracking of runners and positioning, with him occasionally slipping here. But given time and working under the meticulous Pochettino, expect these to be ironed out sooner rather than later.
By the numbers, upon comparing him to Reece James last season using Wyscout data, Gusto admirably held the ascendancy in a plethora of metrics related to expected assists per 90, crosses p90, crossing accuracy, dribbles p90, progressive runs p90, passes into the final third p90, passes into the penalty area p90, through balls p90, progressive passes p90, second assists p90, key passes p90, successful defensive actions p90, defensive duels p90, shots blocked p90 and interceptions p90.
Possessing so many of the tools needed to be a success in today’s game, the signs are certainly positive that he can elevate himself even higher at Chelsea within such an ultra-competitive framework.
This will be easier said than done, however, for managing the weight of expectation and pressure that comes with playing for a colossal club like Chelsea will be imperative if he’s to shine.
With still so much scope for improvement and time well and truly on his side to grow into the polished article, it’ll be intriguing to see if he can fulfil his potential at Stamford Bridge and how content he’ll be serving as James’ understudy once he settles in.
Finding out the answers to all this will be pivotal in determining if he’s a success or a failure.