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Opinion: The rise and rise of Emerson Palmieri

It says everything about the form of Emerson Palmieri that few among the Roma faithful have been casting wistful glances towards the excellent performances of Alex Sandro in Turin this season.

Roma fans have their very own Brazilian left-back to cheer and he's quickly proving to be just as dynamic and impressive as Sandro – and three years younger.

Emerson’s loan move from Palermo, with an option to buy, was overshadowed by the bigger moves for Mohamed Salah and Edin Dzeko in 2015 - and he found game-time a prized commodity during his first season given the presence Lucas Digne on the left flank.

But Digne did not sign permanently for Roma last summer, leaving the door ajar for Emerson - who had shown flashes of quality (and scored at the San Siro) in a few late-campaign cameos. Mario Rui might have been signed in the summer but, after the Portuguese picked up a serious injury in pre-season, it was Emerson who was handed a strong chance to impress.

And impress he has.

This is a player who’s clearly something of a late bloomer, and this is actually his first season as a regular at any club - despite the fact that he’s already 23.

He made his professional debut back in 2011, but was generally a back-up at both Santos and Palermo. Indeed at Roma, Luciano Spalletti took his time to settle on his preferred full-backs, using Jesus, Peres and Rudiger after injuries to Florenzi and Rui.

In fairness, Emerson’s season did not start on the best note as he got sent off in the crucial Champions League qualifier against Porto, an incident which reduced his side to nine men.

While the tie was only 2-1 to Porto at the time, the actual game ended 3-0 and subsequently pushed Roma to the Europa League. The first seven league games also saw Emerson play just 86 minutes, while he was suspended for the first two games of the Europa League.

While Emerson played as a right-back for a couple of games, he was pushed up field in Spalletti’s 3-4-2-1. His role became more prominent as he completed 12 consecutive games in the league at an advanced left-midfield position which saw himself involved in attacks.

His preference to play short passes sees Roma use the left flank more often than not. Emerson connects the defence and the attack in the wing-back role that has returned to vogue this season. A pass success percentage of 87.4% in all competitions is excellent for a full-back.

Emerson’s stats are naturally skewed by the fact that the system brings out the attacking best in him, but they explain his rapid progression.

The natural caveat to all this, of course, is the fact that this is his first full season as a starter. Expectations will need to be tempered, even as he’s statistically one of the best full-backs in the world. He has the potential to become even better, if he is not over-hyped (or does not start to believe said hype), and the key now will be to maintain this consistency into next season.

He is also now eligible for Italy and - given a relative paucity of competition for the left-back role - has this week joined his first training camp for the Azzurri, as coach Gian Piero Ventura takes a closer look at a player he admits intrigues him.

Emerson Palmieri is on the way to becoming a regular at both club and international level - something few would have predicted at the start of the season.

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