Profiling the Olympique Lyonnais and France U-21 right-back
Who is Malo Gusto
After captain Léo Dubois’ departure to Turkish football in the summer, academy graduate Malo Gusto is no longer playing right-back on just a part-time basis for Olympique Lyonnais.
After making brief cameos in the 2020/21 season, the 2021/22 season was a fruitful one for Gusto. He ended it with a very healthy 25.8 90s under his belt, deputising of the oft-absent Dubois before benching the French international during the run-in.
Gusto is now an embedded member of Peter Bosz’s side and has, unsprurisngly, caught the attention of richer clubs across the top-five league spectrum. He has continued to scale the international ladder too, progressing from U-16 to U-21 level within three years.
Malo Gusto's style of play
What stands out about Malso Gusto’s in-possession game is that he’s clearly a team player. In Peter Bosz’s 4-3-3 system, he’s often a very deep holding player, which is in keeping with recent tactical trends regarding full-backs and how they attack generally.
Gusto is acknowledging of this, particularly in build-up, so he can stretch the space inside and ahead, as well as be frequently accessible via wall passes or deep switches. His good application to the system also extends to rotations in the wide triangle when attacking the final third.
However, what he does lack is a sense for when and how to be more direct. When afforded free space out wide, he’s reluctant to move more than halfway between offering long and short, and therefore rarely makes moves that could exploit the space ahead.
This hesitancy is even greater the closer towards goal he is, as he almost never makes runs that attack the channels, hence his 0.02 xG per 90 this season. The overlaps he makes from deep are his most pronounced threat, as he understands the dynamics of it, but even then he can be caught a little too deep.
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Equally in keeping with Bosz’s ways is how willing a receiver Gusto is. Barring some minor inconsistencies, he’s comfortable opening his body up to the wide angles under pressure, knows when a first touch back into space is necessary to withstand that pressure, adjusts easily to awkward passes and effortlessly takes down those aforementioned deep switches.
What he does beyond the first touch resembles similar restraints to that of his movement, though. When he’s afforded a lot of space out wide and his objective is simple, he’s very willing to square his man up.
He centres over the ball nicely to shape either way, regardless of intent, and has a good knack for using his weaker foot to unexpectedly initiate his bursts of pace to the outside. His technical ability isn’t too bad, as he’s still very willing to use both feet to navigate trickier paths towards the space inside the midfield, but sometimes an overuse of his weaker foot can lead to a costly lack of precision.
The way he’s best and most consistent at progressing the ball is through passing and moving. He does it naturally to rotate in the wide trio but also instigates short forward runs a lot better when he can substitute a take-on for a short pass. Occasionally he does these with his most direct intent – looking to cut through the inside channel from the edge of the block – but most still reside fairly far out.
His awareness of what’s on for him in front is often very skewed towards the flank he occupies, so he regularly misses opportunities to sneak balls into the middle when openings arise. Even if he knows where he wants to play, it isn’t a given that his pass – particularly when required to move over longer distances along the ground – will be accurate, correctly weighted, or even correctly picked.
On the other hand, there are good passes he attempts to play through the lines with but lacks the speed of release to prevent himself telegraphing his action.
With this leaves his crossing as the way in which he proposes any real threat as a goal contributor. Gusto’s technique always involves a lot of curl and a lot of height, with the intention of dipping down onto the head of his team-mate. On the one or two occasions in a match when they land, they work spectacularly, but often it’s the weight of ball in that fails for the several other efforts.
He’s best off delivering from the deeper, diagonal angle, undoubtedly, but more care and consideration being put into targeting the space, rather than the man, is a must for future progression.
Defensively, the 19-year-old aims to be as proactive as possible. His positional strictness in possession enables him to be in the right place to counter-press well, which helps him rack up plenty of interventions – but that’s quickly unsettled if he’s not first to the ball.
He can be caught between a rock and a hard place when pressing from behind, which can afford opponents too much time and space to exploit his position. Even when he’s up onto them quickly, his attempted reading of moves can appear like strokes of genius or relative naïvety, with little middle ground.
What hurts him afterwards is both a lack of awareness and a drop in intensity immediately following these brief forays out, as he’s so slow to recover position.
How he falters when committing in this way, however, is mostly due to the technical approach. He’s often guilty of planting himself in one specific direction with a narrow body, which makes recovering against a turn the other way so difficult.
In 1-v-1 situations out wide, the above is also true but Gusto is better at assuming a better balanced, side-on stance that allows him to shift back towards goal faster. Consequently, he constantly leaves the cut-in space wide open. In deep blocks, this is well-covered for, but in stretched phases he doesn’t tend to adjust to make up for the defects of this approach.
The reason why he might be so stubbornly geared towards managing the outside is the lack of burst he possesses, despite his more than adequate pace overall. Part of this is due to his footwork when launching, as well as his strides being a bit shorter than what’s expected.
As a physical force, Gusto is strong and looks to use that to his advantage. In combination with how he stretches out to make lunging challenges – which is something he can do well but can suffer from due to oddly picking the wrong leg to challenge/block with at times – he throws his body around in the hopes of shielding possession back in his favour.
Forecasting Malo Gusto's future
Gusto is in a good place right now – not punching above his weight where he is, necessarily, but not at a club too low for what his level is currently. With his age in mind, a lot of what are weaknesses now can definitely be developed under the right guidance, as there are a lot of raw elements to his game.
Despite his on-ball ability showing potential, he will still require a lot more guided protection for him to begin to operate as a more modern full-back does closer to the inside.
If Bosz can’t develop him further than where he is right now, then his next move will need to be under someone who can – and ideally someone who’s possession-oriented for carefully-guided protection in that respect – otherwise he might stall.
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Malo Gusto is a solid ball-playing fullback, who commits himself well to the system he’s in, possesses an excellent first touch, and has a host of promising-yet-raw attacking qualities with the ball at his feet.
Malo Gusto’s hesitance in attacking movement and also in pressing, at times, can be damaging to his team, just as his dips in intensity often are. Equally, his flawed technical approach hinder him in isolated duels, which, like his final ball, bears very inconsistent results – most of which can be negative.