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At the start of last season, no fan would have asked this question as Marcos Alonso was the undisputed starter at left-back.
Alonso was named in the PFA Team of the Year for the 2017/18 season and was considered one of Maurizio Sarri’s ‘untouchables’ in the first half of last season.
Alonso started the season well under Sarri and was rewarded with a new five-year contract in October.
By September, with Chelsea still unbeaten in all competitions, Sarri hailed Alonso as the best left-back in Europe.
“Alonso, at the moment, [in] this position at left-back is maybe the best in Europe,” Sarri said. “Physical qualities at a top level, I think. He’s doing very well in the offensive phase. But I also think he can improve in the defensive phase. If he improves that, he could be the best left-back in the world.”
Alonso’s form dropped drastically after he was exposed in Chelsea’s defeat to Tottenham in November and the Spaniard struggled to return to his best form for the rest of the season.
Alonso played a pivotal role in the club’s Premier League title success and FA Cup success in Antonio Conte’s two seasons at Chelsea playing as a left wing-back in a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 formation.
Under Sarri, Alonso was deployed as a conventional left-back. The positional change meant fewer opportunities to get forward and being asked to focus far more on his defensive responsibilities.
While Alonso was excellent playing as a wing-back in a back three, he struggled playing as a left-back in a back four.
With Alonso struggling to get the balance right between attack and defence as a left-back, Sarri, who normally isn’t a coach to rotate, gave Emerson Palmieri a chance in the team.
Even though Sarri was happy to start Emerson, Alonso’s height advantage made it difficult for Sarri to choose his first choice left-back.
“Of course. Emerson is a good option,” Sarri admitted. “But I have to consider, also, some details.
“For example, without Alonso, we could have problems
at set-pieces. So, I have to consider everything.”
Even though Emerson started playing more towards the end of last season, he also wasn’t without his flaws. He was poor in the 4-0 defeat to Bournemouth.
Even though Alonso played more games than Emerson last season, Emerson completed more dribbles, and also had a better pass completion rate.
Alonso was better in the air, winning, on average, 1.8 aerials per game (Emerson’s tally is 0.9). While Emerson is a better crosser of the ball, Alonso averaged more successful tackles.
Judging from their stats, it’s obvious ones strength is the other’s weakness and vice versa.
So back to our question, Alonso or Emerson, who should be first choice left-back next season?