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Emerson Palmieri was signed from A.S. Roma in the 2017 January transfer window with a pressing need to provide cover and competition for the ever-present Marcos Alonso. Having made five appearances since joining Chelsea FC, he has not had too many chances to impress but after reviewing the data Emerson is Sarri’s perfect left back.

Why he is Sarri’s Perfect Left Back

The £17m signing was brought in from the back of his performances in Italy which propelled Roma through to the latter stages of the Champions League and kept them within touching distance of the Scudetto. Many expected Emerson to slot straight into the left-back role with Maurizio Sarri’s arrival because of the concerns raised over Marcos Alonso’s ability as a left back.

Emerson’s blistering pace, balance and adventurous nature make him an effective asset for Sarri. He is the closest representation of the type of left back the Italian used at Napoli. Faouzi Ghoulam was the Italian’s preferred attacking wing-back who provided width out on the left with Lorenzo Insigne drifting in; much like Eden Hazard does for Chelsea. Sarri’s philosophy allows for one of his full-backs to attack with his counterpart playing the more orthodox and conservative role. With the 2018/2019 season up and running, Marcos Alonso has established himself as the alpha after two match-winning performances that include 1 goal and 2 assists, but what makes Emerson Palmieri the ideal left back?

Emerson Palmieri v Faouzi Ghoulam

For us to better understand Emerson’s traits and attributes he brings to the team, we need to focus on two concepts; what attributes does Sarri’s philosophy entail and find comparisons with Faouzi Ghoulam. Using data from Emerson’s days at AS Roma should paint a clearer picture as to why Emerson would be Sarri’s preferred left-back.

Emerson Palmieri Chelsea Tactical Analysis Statistics
Image courtesy of Squawka

Firstly, Sarri’s teams usually play in an orthodox 4-3-3 formation with a focus on possession, passing and high defensive line. The wing backs are asked to stay high and wide with a lot of movement off the ball to intercept the opposition and cut off their passing angles. When in possession, the attacking wing back is required to create width to cross and overload the spaces behind the opposition defence to allow the forward’s space centrally.

Sarri will be pleased to see Emerson’s pass completion rate at 88% from a total of 990 passes which plays into the manager’s possession-based strategy and proves Emerson’s willingness to keep faith with the Sarri’s ideology. This Chelsea team has already demonstrated their passing doctrine with 913 passes against Newcastle. Ghoulam ended the season with an 87% success rate out of a total of 1,548 passes; so we can already draw comparisons between two the left backs.

Dribbling and successfully beating the opposition full back and winger is a necessity for an attacking wing back; Emerson’s dribbling statistics are comparable with some of the best left-backs in world football, winning 72.41% of his 45 attempted take-ons and drawing at least 2 fouls per every 90 minutes on the pitch in Italy (a total of 44 fouls suffered). In comparison, Ghoulam won 60% of attempted take 18 take-ons, drawing a total of 24 fouls in the 2016/2017 season. Emerson is an adept dribbler and should be able to take on most premier league defenders and provide scoring opportunities.

Wing backs of Ghoulam and Emerson’s nature aren’t known for their defensive prowess but the statistics suggest otherwise. Emerson committed an average of 0.60 fouls per 90 minutes with Ghoulam at a slightly higher average of 0.64 per 90 minutes. His 2.89 clearances per game eclipses Ghoulam’s 2.53 and commits 0 defensive errors per game.

What About Marcos Alonso?

But why has Marcos Alonso claimed the left back spot from the Brazilian born Italy international? Alonso has arguably been Chelsea’s most consistent player over the last two seasons. His attacking play was a feature under the former Italian coach along with being a dead ball specialist. The Spaniard’s free-kick against Tottenham Hotspur at the start of last season to win the game lives fresh in our memory. It also serves as an example of the high technical skill possessed by the ex Fiorentina left-back. At 6 foot 2 inches, Alonso gives Chelsea Chelsea a significant advantage when it comes to set pieces.

Emerson and Ghoulam have comparable statistics and based off the analysis. Emerson seems to be a better fit under ‘Sarri-ball’ but without a run of games in the first team, a proper assessment cannot be ascertained until he is given that chance. I’d argue that Emerson would not have thrived under Antonio Conte’s rigid system due to his attacking strengths and Conte’s obsessive need for all his players to track back and defend.

Alonso in comparison to Emerson had a 78% pass completion rate, committed 0.84 fouls per game and won 65% of his dribbling duels. Although, the significant advantage Alonso holds is his consistency; any player who has performed week in and week out in arguably the best football league in the world deserves his chance to stake his claim under a new manager.

Emerson has the potential to ascend to greater heights under Maurizio Sarri with his attacking ability evident but Chelsea’s current number 3 has the experience, consistency and a set-piece specialist. With plenty of football to be played this season both full backs should get a chance to prove their worth and lay claim to the Stamford Bridge throne.