Chelsea ace Malo Gusto makes shock Trent Alexander-Arnold admission amid Reece James battle


Chelsea full-back Malo Gusto is continuing to embrace the void and the challenge of Reece James at the club as he looks set to start a fifth game in a row. The 20-year-old, who signed from Lyon in January before being loaned back to his boyhood club ahead of joining up with the Blues this summer, has found himself in the team earlier than expected.

With James being sidelined for at least another week with injury, one he picked up after the first game of the season against Liverpool, Gusto has been thrust into the spotlight in a changeable environment at Stamford Bridge. By the time he finished the opening day draw he was alongside four other players in goal and defence that were making their league debut for the club.

Having arrived with James, the newly appointed captain, in front of him, Gusto was not immediately first choice but has provided ample back-up for a position that has proven far from stable in the past few years. James' blotted injury record is now well established and had left an ageing Cesar Azpilicueta in wing-back or full-back too often before new blood was added to the squad.

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Now, Gusto has made an immediate impact since arriving as a highly rated defender. He already has two assists to his name, continuing a trend of impressive attacking full-backs at Chelsea, but has also shown alertness and speed going the other way.

Despite an up and down start to the season he has been one of the brighter spots and is relishing the unexpected chance to shine in James' absence. “There’s nothing that told me: no, it’s not possible," Gusto said when asked in an interview with L’Équipe what the prospect of playing back-up was like.

"There was a voice that said to me: you can, so why would you say no? Is there a great player in your place? Yes, but you can be a great player too. It’s a challenge. It’s a healthy battle.”

Even though few expected him to get as much gametime as he has so far, Chelsea were well aware of the quality of player they were buying with Gusto and have so far been rewarded for trusting him in the early weeks of the season. With Levi Colwill acting as a left-back in the absence of a truly in-form or match ready, out-and-out left-winger, Gusto has been allowed to push forward more in the knowledge that there are still three defence-first players behind him.

Just like James, this option has been much needed given issues in the front-line when it comes to creating and converting chances. Gusto is hoping that the depth he provides can help kickstart the new era at Stamford Bridge.

“I’m not stupid or crazy. I knew before coming that Reece James is one of the best players in his position," he admitted. "We get on very well. He talks to me a lot. We are in a big club, there must be good players in each position. The reason I chose Chelsea is because I have a plan. I know what I’m doing.”

Gusto added: “I learned to love defending. A full-back is above all that. I’ve looked a lot at how Daniel Alves, Kyle Walker, and Trent Alexander-Arnold approach the position. However, I don’t want to imitate them. My identity is to add intensity, to chain offensive and therefore defensive races, to be complete. Being a full-back is that for me.”

He was previously a winger during his formative youth days but has gradually moved back down the pitch, specialising as a wing-back and full-back. This versatility is vitally important for Pochettino and, in James, he already has one of the best examples and teammates to learn from.

James isn't ready for a return just yet though. "He's recovering well. I don't know if he's close or not because we assess him every single day but he's started to do things on the pitch with the ball," Pochettino said ahead of the trip to Bournemouth.

"He's really well. He's desperate to play for the team. Yes, I hope it's close, also so he can be available before the next international break."

For now, at least, Gusto is going to be needed for Chelsea as a primary option. Nothing so far suggests that this is a big worry for Chelsea either and watching them both grow and develop will be a source of hopefully great satisfaction for supporters in the coming years.

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