Twelve months ago, Parma Calcio sealed a fairy tale return to Serie A. This was the culmination of three consecutive promotions, after the club had been declared bankrupt in 2015 and suffered the humiliation of demotion to Serie D.
At the outset of the 2018/19 Serie A campaign, consolidation had been the primary objective for Parma. This was no case of false modesty, rather a reflection of the more limited means on which the former giants were now competing.
Head coach Roberto D’Aversa had the job of re-modelling his promotion-winning side. For the first time in a decade the club would begin a season without their talisman, Alessandro Lucarelli, who had bowed out in glorious fashion. Parma’s summer transfer policy was pragmatic and eclectic in equal measure.
Parma gambled on the experience of Bruno Alves (36, from Rangers) and Gervinho (31, from Hebei China). Meanwhile, other arrivals brought a depth of top-level experience otherwise absent from the squad; in came Massimo Gobbi (37, from Chievo) and Luca Rigoni (33, from Genoa). At the other end of the age spectrum, centre back Alessandro Bastoni (19, from Inter) proved to be an inspired loan signing.
Transfer fees were used sparingly; Juraj Kucka was brought back to the peninsula for £4.5m, whilst Parma paid a sizeable loan fee (£2.7m) to secure Roberto Inglese for the season. Inglese was one of five arrivals from the fringes of the Napoli first team. Parma also couldn’t resist bringing back Frenchman Jonathan Biabiany for an unprecedented fifth spell at the club.
Parma’s dealings in the transfer market paid off handsomely – and the objective of Serie A survival was achieved with a game to spare. Bruno Alves came as close as was humanly possible to filling Lucarelli’s boots. The season brought several memorable moments for Crociati tifosi too; Gervinho’s stunning solo goal against Cagliari deserves to be remembered in the same bracket as George Weah’s famous goal for Milan. Coming back from the dead to seal a 3-3 draw at Juventus in February is also one that will live long in the memory.
Despite achieving their mission, the type of football served up by Parma could not be described as progressive. It also resulted in a number of statistical aberrations which, far from detracting from their achievement, make it all the more remarkable. Here, we look at their season in five charts;
1. Parma adopted a low possession-low pressing style…
- Parma had the one of the lowest possession percentages in Europe (41%); only Cardiff City had lower possession in the top five European leagues.
- Combined with a low average distance covered, this showed that Parma were happy to sit deep, allowing the opposition have the ball as they absorbed pressure.
- This is borne out in wider data too; 33% of the action in Parma’s matches took place in their own final third, a full 2 percentage points higher than any other team.
2. They took a no-nonsense attacking approach…
- Parma attempted to move the ball from back-to-front quickly. They had the joint-third largest number of long balls per game (63).
- On average, more than half of these long balls were inaccurate (34 per game), whilst overall passing accuracy was the lowest in the league (74.5%), offering further explanation of the very low possession stats.
- Meanwhile, Parma had the fewest short passes per game (264). Astonishingly, this was more than 10% less than the next team (Genoa, 300) and less than half of the number achieved by Inter and Napoli at the other end of the table.
3. However, Parma were clinical in their rare attacks…
- Parma had the fewest shots per game (9.3), a full shot lower than the next lowest team, Chievo.
- However, they were by no means the lowest scorers – indicating that they were clinical in converting the chances they created. When it came to chances, it was very much a case of quality rather than quantity for Parma. 11% of their shots were taken from within the 6-yard box; the highest in Serie A and a full 2 percentage points higher than the next best team.
- Within this, Parma also made effective use of set pieces with over a quarter of their goals coming as a result of free kicks or corners.
4. The re-birth of Gervinho was pivotal to their success…
- Gervinho provided a potent attacking outlet on the left hand side of Parma’s attacking trident. He scored a quarter of Parma’s league goals.
- They looked where possible to attack down the flanks, with a clear bias to the left-hand side.
- 41% of Parma’s attacks and 22% of their shots came from the left-hand side, both the joint-second highest in Serie A.
5. At the other end of the pitch, Luigi Sepe was a busy man…
- Inviting constant pressure inevitably resulted in a high volume of attempts on the Parma goal. Ever-present Luigi Sepe, averaged 3.8 saves per game. Only Empoli and Cagliari faced a greater number.
- After stepping up from the Napoli reserves, Sepe had a steady, but not spectacular season. He was firmly in the middle of the pack in terms of saves made per goal conceded.
- Sepe lagged some way behind standout keepers Cragno (Cagliari), Donnarumma (Milan), Handanovic (Inter) and Sirigu (Torino). A more resilient ‘keeper could have made Parma’s remarkable achievement even better still.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, why not check out my article on calcio’s gemellaggio phenomenon.
All data sourced from whoscored.com and legaseriea.it