The Chelsea starlet who can become world class and help them forget all about £62m talisman

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The Blues have found a real gem despite a difficult season under Mauricio Pochettino

Malo Gusto is playing 4D chess. Many people questioned the wisdom of the 20-year-old walking away from boyhood club Lyon to sign for an outfit in a semi-shambolic state with a well-established and universally admired right-back already on their books. Those same people failed to account for one key factor, however: Reece James' rice paper limbs.

Since joining Chelsea, Gusto has entirely deconstructed the notion that he would be little more than a glorified understudy at Stamford Bridge. Through a combination of James' prolonged absence and a fairly relentless streak of good form, the Frenchman has amassed 30 appearances across all competitions this season, registering eight assists in that time.

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Indeed, his debut campaign in English football has been so impressive that it is becoming increasingly difficult to presume that James will automatically displace him if and when he returns to full fitness.

There is even talk of Chelsea potentially selling a player who was only appointed as club captain upon Mauricio Pochettino's arrival last summer. According to The Times, the Blues are considering a shock sale of both James and midfielder Conor Gallagher in an effort to generate a combined fee in excess of £100 million as they look to relieve some of the pressure of looming Profitability and Sustainability Rules. Last year, reports in Spain suggested that the defender alone was valued at £62 million.

But while James himself would reportedly rather stay put at his boyhood club, the fact that Chelsea are mulling over the prospect of selling him at all speaks volumes - not just about the club's current financial situation, but also about the sudden emergence of Gusto.

In some respects, it is no great shock; the full-back cost the Blues around £30.7 million, and for that kind of money, the expectation will have been that they were bringing in a player capable of immediately contributing to the first team. But few could have foreseen the ease with which Gusto has settled, or the extent to which he has made James' stint on the sidelines feel entirely manageable.

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And perhaps the biggest compliment you can pay the defender is that he is still, somehow, only 20 years of age. To watch Gusto, with his knack for immaculately timed interventions and his sixth sense for when to turn the screw on an opposition's defence, is to feel as if you are in the presence of a player much further along on his career path. It is no fluke that he has already been capped at senior international level by France, even in spite of the dizzying depth of options available to former Blues man Didier Deschamps.

The simple fact of the matter is that Gusto has been able to slot in and disrupt the accepted pecking order of genuine world class talent around him because he himself is well on his way to justifying that mantle. Obviously, he has profited from a relatively unexpected run in the side at club level, courtesy of James' injury woes, but ever since that opportunity has been afforded to him, Gusto has shone brilliantly.

Maybe Chelsea will sell James this summer, and maybe they won’t. Either way, the Blues can rest assured that if their skipper does depart, they have the ideal successor ready and waiting to answer their call.

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