Emerson Palmieri: West Ham’s Serial Winner in Defence

This time last year, West Ham travelled to Arsenal. Winless since October, the Hammers took a surprise lead before the hosts sparked into life in the second-half with goals from Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah. 33-year-old Aaron Cresswell was run ragged in a devastating 15-minute spell, whilst Emerson Palmieri, a summer arrival from Chelsea, watched on from the bench for the sixth successive game. 


But almost a year to the day, West Ham will arrive at the Emirates as Europa Conference League champions and just six points off the top four, with Emerson a mainstay in a defence that has reacted to their 5-0 drubbing away to Fulham with back-to-back clean sheets in the league. 


After a tough start to life at West Ham, the Italian left-back has made the position his own. With 16 starts from a possible 18 in the Premier League, Emerson’s already played more minutes than he did last season. A reliable and experienced defender, his ability to win back possession – he completed four tackles in their win over Manchester United, allows West Ham to break with regularity and intensity. 


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Under David Moyes, West Ham look to hurt teams in the transitions, sitting off and waiting for their opportunities to counter – they’ve scored the most goals on the counter in the Premier League this season (6). It’s a system predicated on athleticism, of which Emerson, who has previously played as both a wing-back and a left forward, has in abundance. 


Moyes asks a lot of his full-backs. They need to be able to get up and down the pitch with purpose, providing support for the likes of Mohammed Kudus and Jarrod Bowen, whilst understanding that as soon as they lose the ball, they need to get back into shape and concentrate on regaining possession. It’s a thankless role that requires a selfless personality. 


Emerson embodies the characteristics Moyes looks for, and it’s a big reason why the Scot has persisted with him after a difficult first season. In an interview with The Athletic, Emerson referred to Moyes as a ‘father-like’ figure, hinting at the close relationship the pair have. 


“The manager is like a father to us because he tries to help in every aspect, on and off the field. He works a lot with us on the mental aspect of our game. I love playing football, I play with a smile on my face, and I try to always be happy,” he told Roshane Thomas in September.


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West Ham are a team oozing confidence at the minute, and it’s unsurprising that Emerson is playing some of the best football of his career under a manager who trusts him. The technical aspects of Emerson’s game aren’t in doubt, he showed in limited minutes at Chelsea his ability to cross from wide or take the ball to the byline. But where Emerson truly stands out is in his malleability. Never one to complain, he takes on tactical instructions and adapts his game accordingly. 


Photo: Emerson Palmieri’s 2023/24 season heat map (Sofascore)


Asked to be more progressive in a ball-dominant Maurizio Sarri team at Chelsea, Emerson is now tasked with providing energy and reliability out of possession, a model of consistency that forms the foundations of West Ham’s direct style. This idea of consistency stems from availability, and since a hamstring injury in 2019, Emerson hasn’t been unavailable for selection for anything other than a bout of Coronavirus whilst on loan at Lyon. This has allowed Emerson to create strong bonds with his teammates, and as his importance has grown on the pitch his influence off it has too. 


At 29 years old, Emerson has never truly settled, struggling to assert himself during spells with Roma and Chelsea. But now, having found his feet at West Ham, Emerson is repaying the faith shown in him with consistent displays both at home and in Europe. After bouncing around from Brazil to Italy to France in the first decade of his playing career, Emerson is not only finding stability in London but also growing a reputation as something of a serial winner.


Having won two Campeonato Paulistas at Santos, Emerson claimed the Champions League, Europa League and UEFA SuperCup during his time with the Blues and has added the European Championship and the Europa Conference League titles to his resume over the past few years. He’ll be looking to add to his trophy cabinet as West Ham look to make a deep push in the Europa League and the FA Cup under David Moyes, before jetting off to Germany to take part in the Euros with Luciano Spalletti’s Azzurri.


By: Sam Tabuteau / @tabuteauS

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Sebastian Frej / MB Media / Getty Images