Ahead of Arsenal's Champions League last-16 second leg against Milan, we take a closer look at the Rossoneri's versatile Dutch midfielder Urby Emanuelson.
Player: Urby Emanuelson
Date of birth: June 16, 1986 (age 25)
Place of birth: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Height: 1.76m (5ft 9.5in)
Current club: Milan
Former clubs: Ajax, Voorland SC (youth)
Euroscout seems to spend a lot of time looking at the products of Dutch academies, our past two reports having been on Christian Eriksen (Ajax) and Kevin Strootman (PSV, formerly of Sparta Rotterdam's youth set-up).
But the making of full-back-turned-midfielder Emanuelson has been at Milan, thanks to the cumulative misfortune of his team-mates.
The skilful Dutchman was known primarily as an attacking left-back with the ability to play further forward if needed; slightly haphazard defending under former Ajax coach Marco van Basten led to his recasting as a winger. A wide role was therefore coach Massimiliano Allegri's thinking when he signed the Holland international in January 2011.
The rest of that season was spent largely on the bench, from where he made most of his 11 appearances as combination of wing-back Luca Antonini and wide forward Robinho kept him out of the team.
This season it seemed he would also be restricted to cover duty, until a midfield injury-crisis forced Allegri's hand: with Massimo Ambrosini, Gennaro Gattuso, Mathieu Flamini, Alberto Aquilani, Clarence Seedorf and — infamously — Kevin-Prince Boateng all suffering overlapping injury problems, Emanuelson's versatility was put to the test when he was asked to play in central midfield.
And what an impact he has had — his skill, crossing, pace and energy were never in question; but his passing and game-intelligence are better than anyone thought, and far better utilised in a central position with a license to roam. Furthermore, Milan's win percentage rises from 53% to 73% when he starts.
Providing support to strikers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho and cover to the defence, he has slotted into Boateng's 'lively attacking midfielder' role with relative ease, although his shooting is not as sharp as the Ghana international's.
Seedorf's injury early in the 4-0 win against Arsenal in the first leg was a key moment for Emanuelson: they may be similar-looking players with a similar pedigree from Ajax, but the difference in their playing styles was obvious as the younger Dutchman ran rings around the hapless Gunners.
He is first-choice now, dovetailing nicely with Antonio Nocerino and Sulley Muntari — signed as additional cover — as his aforementioned midfield colleagues continue to suffer fitness problems.
His first league goal came a few weeks ago, a fierce low drive from distance in the3-1 win at Cesena, as he seeks to add an end product to his team play.
It will be interesting to see where he plays when the likes of Boateng, Ambrosini, Flamini, Aquilani and Seedorf are all available: will he remain in the middle, or find himself on the left? Either way it's safe to say he will spend less time on the bench, particularly if Milan progress beyond the quarter-finals of the Champions League, with victory over Arsenal almost certain.
Analysis from Milan's 4-0 win at Palermo in Serie A on March 3
5' The corner is cleared only as far as Emanuelson, who cuts in from the right and drives his left-footed shot into the side-netting from a good position in the box.
7' Ibrahimovic's cross from the right is stabbed back by Muntari to Emanuelson, who drives a good effort straight at goalkeeper Viviano, who only just holds on.
39' Viviano pulls off a world-class save to prevent Ibrahimovic from getting his fourth! Milan launch another counter-attack after Palermo make a mess of a corner, Emanuelson crosses for Robinho, who heads down to Ibra, whose snap shot is saved by Viviano's foot.
50' Emanuelson has been injured and is receiving treatment.
NOTE: The ankle injury ultimately forced him off, although it was later revealed to be just a knock. He is expected to play against Arsenal and has been named in the squad.
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