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Player Profile: Who is Malo Gusto and what can he bring to Chelsea?



(Photo by Chelsea FC)

Chelsea have completed the transfer of Lyon’s 19-year-old French right-back Malo Gusto for a fee of around £30 million, with the Ligue 1 club retaining the defender on loan for the remainder of the season, which will see Gusto link up with the squad in the summer.

“I chose Chelsea because it’s a very big club and I very (much) like the project,” said Gusto after signing his seven-and-a-half-year deal. “Very happy to be here.”

Malo Gusto to Chelsea details: Why he joined, transfer fee, contract length, Lyon loan

With Reece James’ injury issues now well documented – the right-back missing 15 games in all competitions so far this season, and 33-year-old Cesar Azpilicueta lacking the pace, energy and attacking threat James offers in abundance, it’s certainly wise for the Blues to invest in a right-back to provide both cover and competition for selection. 

Not 20 until May, Gusto already has over 50 senior appearances to his name, including in the Europa League, and has earned plaudits both in France and across Europe for his fine performances and raw talent.

What has been Gusto’s career path to date, and what attributes could he potentially bring to a Chelsea XI in the future?

Career to Date

Gusto joined the Lyon academy in 2016 aged 13 after spending a year at local side FC Bourgoin-Jallieu alongside future team-mate Amine Gouiri, who compete in the fifth tier of the French football pyramid. After impressing in Lyon’s reserve side, as well as frequently appearing for various France national youth sides, Gusto made his full debut in January 2021 aged 17 – appearing off the bench in 0-5 thrashing away at Saint-Étienne, before another substitute appearance in May in a home win over FC Lorient. His promise and raw talent evidenced in these brief cameos saw Gusto rewarded with a new contract in June 2021, committing the youngster to Lyon until 2024.

After the departures of full-backs Mattia de Sciglio and Maxwel Cornet in the summer of 2021, as well the appointment of Peter Bosz as head coach – renowned for the development of youngsters such as Kai Havertz, Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong, Gusto had a real opportunity to establish himself as a key member of the Lyon first team, competing with veteran Léo Dubois. 

After becoming the youngest defender to start a Ligue 1 for Lyon since Samuel Umtiti in the season opener against Brest in August 2021, Gusto picked up a further 29 league games for Les Gones as the club finished 8th with 61 points, assisting four goals from right back. Gusto also played an important role in Lyon’s Europa League campaign – racking up 260 minutes in the group stage, and playing every minute in the quarter-final 4-1 aggregate defeat to West Ham.

With Lyon rotating between a 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 set-up under Bosz, Gusto formed an effective partnership with Xherdan Shaqiri down the right-hand side, as well as Brazilian Tete after the latter’s arrival in March. Bosz also utilised a 3-4-3 formation on occasion, Gusto catching the eye in a more advanced wing-back role, where he provided an important assist in a 2-1 win over Marseille in February.

With the departure of Dubois to Galatasaray in the summer of 2022, Gusto started the 22/23 campaign as Lyon’s first-choice right-back – the club replacing Bosz with Laurent Blanc in October after a poor opening 10 league games. Gusto started 15 of the opening 19 Ligue 1 games, missing three through injury as Lyon sit 9th with 25 points to date. His continued form saw the right-back linked with a move to both Arsenal and Manchester United, before penning a deal with Chelsea this window to join alongside compatriot Christopher Nkunku in the summer.

Style of Play

Gusto is a tenacious and powerful right-back that can easily be compared to Reece James, and his versatility across both fullback and wing-back roles could prove incredibly valuable as Chelsea compete in multiple competitions next season.

During his development in the Lyon academy, Gusto was experimented in various positions from a right winger to attacking midfielder, before settling as a right-back where he can utilise his pace and athleticism.

A “modern” right-back capable of contributing in both defence and attack, Gusto excels in his offensive threat and on-the-ball ability. When compared to other right-backs in Europe’s ‘top five’ leagues, Gusto ranks in the top 6 percent for expected assists per 90 with 0.25, an upgrade on Azpilicueta’s 0.08 – additionally his 1.43 crosses into the final third per 90 ranks Gusto in the elite top one percent, a huge increase on Azpi’s 0.33. 

With James highly renowned for his ability to provide clear-cut goal scoring opportunities for Chelsea’s attackers, Gusto can ideally slot into this role without a severe decrease in quality. 

Gusto’s offensive potency can be clearly evidenced when looking at the ‘expected threat’ accumulated via open-play passes in Ligue 1 so far this season – Gusto ranking highest in three separate zones down the right-hand side.

In addition to his dangerous attacking presence and propensity for creating a high-volume of scoring chances, Gusto isn’t afraid to get involved in the ‘nitty-gritty’ of defending, and stamp out opposition attacks. Both his tackles in the final third (0.36) and interceptions (1.47) per 90 rank in the top 12 percent for European right-backs – his raw pace allowing him to perform important defensive actions in transitions and turn-overs. His dynamism down the right-hand side can be seen in his heatmap below in Ligue 1 last season.

Still only 19, Gusto’s rapid rise has earned rightful admiration in the football community. Football.London compared the youngster to Real Madrid’s Dani Carvajal, saying: ‘Malo Gusto is very dangerous going forward. He’s very quick and athletic and has an eye for a cross on the right-hand side. Also, he’s very good at defending one-versus-one situations. Looks a real talent’.

The Ligue 1 official website also highlighted Gusto as “one to watch” in September 2021, quoting Bosz’s praise after he was tasked with man-marking Neymar against PSG, with the coach saying: “Malo had a great game. Towards the end of the first half, I said to myself, ‘He’s not going to get to half-time going at 100 miles-an-hour like that’, because he was everywhere.”

At around £26 million, Chelsea’s move for Gusto may well prove to be a real bargain if he can continue his meteoric rise in European football for the Blues next season, lining up in an exciting young XI alongside compatriots Wesley Fofana, Benoit Badiashile and expected arrival Christopher Nkunku.