Mauricio Pochettino Chelsea favourite has a head start to becoming an Enzo Maresca undroppable

Malo Gusto of Chelsea is embraced by Reece James
-Credit: (Image: Harriet Lander)

It just hasn't quite worked out as planned for a number of Chelsea signings during the Todd Boehly era. However, that most certainly cannot be said about Malo Gusto.

Arriving at Stamford Bridge from Lyon last summer after initially agreeing to the move in January 2023, the 21-year-old was brought to London to provide cover for Reece James and also compete with him for the right-back spot. The England international's injury-hit campaign meant that his challenger effectively became the club's first-choice right-back, with his performances over the season very much highlighting that James has some challenge on his hands for his position going forward.

Gusto was a shining light in such an up-and-down season for the Blues as he delivered impressive performances week after week. An automatic pick on the team sheet for Mauricio Pochettino, new head coach Enzo Maresca has quite the headache on his hands when it comes to choosing between James and Gusto.

After only featuring in 11 Chelsea games last season, James is now back on the training pitch at the club's Cobham training base with the team's summer preparations getting underway on Monday. It really is a pivotal summer for the Chelsea captain as he looks to regain his place in the team and rediscover the form that saw him feature regularly in Gareth Southgate's England team.

While some may feel that James, fitness provided of course, is undoubtedly Maresca's first-choice option at right-back from August onwards, it may not actually be so straightforward for the Italian. After all, Gusto delivered performances last season that made him undroppable from the Chelsea XI.

What is actually going to play into the Frenchman's hands when it comes to trying to make the right-back berth his own is the fact that James will not be available for Premier League selection until midway through September. Following his comeback from injury last May, the academy graduate picked up a needless red card in the 2-1 win at Brighton & Hove Albion after entering the fray late on.

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His second dismissal of the season after earlier seeing red in the 4-1 defeat at Newcastle United in November, James was subsequently hit with a four-game suspension as a result. Duly missing out on the final day as Chelsea beat Bournemouth 2-1, the 24-year-old will also be absent for Chelsea's first three league fixtures against Man City, Wolves and Crystal Palace next season in order to complete his ban.

That in turn gives Gusto a head start and a golden chance to impress Maresca as he looks to ensure that he is still in the Chelsea XI upon James' return for the away clash at Bournemouth on Saturday, September 14. The Blues could potentially even see an improved version of Gusto next season as he will only be better for having one year's worth of Premier League football under his belt and the return to fitness of the captain could perhaps take him to new levels altogether.

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Maresca does have two fine options when it comes to the right-back spot in his team but also one huge selection dilemma on his hands. That is what all head coaches want, though, and it will only benefit Chelsea in the months ahead as they look to get back to their previous heights.