Friday, April 12, 2024

Malo Gusto could be the blueprint for Chelsea’s future following impressive performance in Newcastle win

LONDON — If you were attempting to articulate the blueprint for what a Chelsea recruit should be in the Clearlake era, you may well find yourself describing Malo Gusto. Blessed with technique and physicality, the Frenchman has the versatility to ride out any amount of managerial tumult. Mauricio Pochettino might be able to deploy him as a one-man right flank in the mold of Kyle Walker, but when opportunities came to progress the ball through midfield, you could see the outline of the more à la mode inverted defender.

He is not too shabby out of possession either. Early in the second half, Alexander Isak was doing his best tribute to his idol Thierry Henry, ghosting off the flank and ready to pick out runners either side of him. He did not, however, figure with Gusto applying the afterburners, flying into position to snuff out a dangerous attack and then showing the composure to move Chelsea up the field. That typified Gusto’s night. It took less than half an hour for Eddie Howe to conclude that Anthony Gordon, Newcastle’s most dangerous wide option, should be switched off Gusto’s flank if he was to have any joy on a night that was disrupted.

In a side that remains some way off the European places even after Monday night’s 3-2 win, Gusto looks ready for bigger things. You could easily imagine him excelling in a Champions League contender. All that and to top it off, Gusto is only 20, an impressive prospect with plenty of time to develop all while earning roughly $57,000-a-week, a middling wage for most Premier League clubs and an outright bargain for Chelsea. At a time when the top flight is drifting away from Profit and Sustainability Regulations to something that could like a de facto salary cap, Gusto has the look of an acquisition ahead of his time.

His presence opens up possibilities for a squad that seems set in concrete, for better and often worse. Fitting Gusto and Reece James into one team is a far more appealing prospect than most available to Mauricio Pochettino this season. Indeed, if Gusto keeps up this level of form, it would not be entirely unreasonable for ownership to hit the button marked “sell academy graduate for pure profit.” There are few more ringing endorsements you could make of the Lyonnais prospect than to suggest that James, a unicorn masquerading as a full back, is no guaranteed starter on his return.

At 20, allowances have to be made for the indiscretions of youth. Gusto might still dwell on the heavy touch in his own third that allowed Newcastle to steal possession just before Isak bent in their equalizer (albeit he was not the only player in blue to give the ball away in a chaotic sequence). It was a rare blemish, however, in a largely exceptional game.

It was Gusto’s cross that drew a half-hearted clearance from Sven Botman, the ball dropping right at the boot of Cole Palmer, whose low drive was backheeled into the net by Nicolas Jackson, a combination from two more players who have the look of salary cap steals. Palmer might have got the goal anyway without his teammate’s interventions, but he made sure that no one could get an impudent boot on his second-half strike, arrowing low into Martin Dubravka’s goal to restore a lead that Alexander Isak had canceled out with an Henry-esque finish in the first half.

Even as Palmer was celebrating his 15th goal of the season, you could hear the smattering of supporters heralding Gusto, who had softened up the Newcastle left flank for his teammates in the preceding attacks. Another endorsement for the Gusto cause. Perhaps the full back’s ferocity with the ball at his feet inspired Mykhailo Mudryk, watching on from the bench before a cameo that will rank among the best moments of his early Chelsea career, a slaloming run through the Newcastle backline and around Dubravka. A remarkable sight for supporters who have seen the Ukrainian charge down so many blind alleys.

They would do wise not to get carried away over anything achieved against this Newcastle side, whose expected goal difference is the worst in the league since Christmas for good reason. A hit with a feather would be enough to blow some in black and white, of course. Stunning strikes from Isak and, with time running down, Jacob Murphy might have added some sheen to the scoreline, but if the visitors weren’t scoring wondergoals tonight, they weren’t scoring.

Gusto impressed until the final whistle, putting just enough pressure on Sean Longstaff to ensure that he could only direct his header out of play. Over a billion dollars in outgoings really ought to have secured Chelsea more players of this standard with the promise of more to come, but this one alone looks like the sort of addition that can serve as an exemplar in the years ahead.

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