How does Gusto compare to James ahead of summer Chelsea switch
Posted on January 29, 2023
On Thursday, Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas tweeted that Malo Gusto would remain at the club until the sumer. That announcement seemed to derail any chance Chelsea had of signing the teenage full-back. And yet, on Friday night, a deal taking Gusto to Stamford Bridge was given the 'Here we go!' treatment by Fabrizio Romano, with the 19-year-old completing his switch to west London at the end of the season.
Aulas, then, wasn't wrong, and while Chelsea would have wanted their number one right-back target to come in this month, they can at least rest easy that they won't miss out on Gusto to any top level rivals. The impending capture of Gusto continues Chelsea's pursuit to sign the best young talents on the continent and hand them lengthy contracts to circumvent FFP regulations.
Benoit Badiashile and Mykhailo Mudryk have both joined the Blues this month, penning seven-and-a-half and eight-and-a-half year contracts following their respective arrivals from Monaco and Shakhtar. The pair have shown they are ready for regular first team action under Graham Potter, though where Gusto fits into the Chelsea setup when everyone is available is another conundrum for Potter.
Given a side of Chelsea's stature and the idea to compete on a number of fronts, it's important that the Blues boss has top-quality options all across the pitch to ensure the capital side can remain competitive. Once Gusto does arrive, Potter will have two of the best young right-backs at his disposal in both the Frenchman and Reece James.
James' campaign has been hampered by injury, so much so that he has made just seven league starts this season. In his absence, Chelsea's attack has suffered. Indeed, when James has started, they average 1.57 goals per game, a return that drops to 0.85 when absent. Of course, there are a number of mitigating factors in play to contribute towards that dip, yet it's damning that Chelsea are unable to really hurt opponents with James sidelined, particularly without a quality attacking option in reserve.
Potter has tried to find a player to fill the void when James is out, however this has proven a nigh-on impossible task, at least it will be until the end of the season. In France, meanwhile, Gusto has been a key man for Lyon after breaking into the first team in 2021/22, and has really developed in the first half of the Ligue 1 season. While he has just one assist to his name, only Jamal Musiala and Lyon teammate Rayan Cherki (both 27) have made more key passes than Gusto (21) of teenagers in Europe's top five leagues this season at the time of writing.
He is creating the chances, but these are just not being tucked away by the Lyon offensive. Of course, Chelsea's forward line has hardly stood out in 2022/23 - they have scored just 22 league goals this season, fewer than Manchester City striker Erling Haaland (25), and relegation threatened pair Leicester (28) and Leeds (26) - however as Potter gets up to speed with the squad at his disposal, this'll surely rise in time and bringing in a player to create chances will aid their push for goals.
In terms of their offensive output, both James and Gusto are putting up relatively similar numbers. Gusto (1.1) edges James (0.9) in terms of dribbles per 90, and does so for total crosses per 90 at 6.3 to the Chelsea man's 6.0. What does stand out is the success of their crosses, however. The Lyon man has returned a success rate of 30.8% compared to his new Chelsea teammate's return of 19.5%, though this can be put down to the French side boasting a consistent strike force, while Potter still aims to find his most potent XI.
Nevertheless, to have two offensive full-backs with similar attacking outputs is a bonus for Chelsea. Given James' injury issues this season, too, it stands to reason that Gusto will enjoy ample game time for Chelsea, but crucially; to have a pair of young players in the same position who are able to attack well means their gameplan won't be impacted when one needs to stand in for the other.
On the whole, this has been a key reason behind what has been a disappointing campaign for Chelsea so far, yet in theory; this should not be the case next term. Supporters are likely to watch Lyon closely between now and the end of the season to learn more on Gusto, and they have every right to be excited about the summer arrival of a player who'll provide quality competition for James to nail down the right-back or right wing-back spot at Stamford Bridge.
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