Coppa Italia: Round of 16 / Team rating: [6/10] / Top scorer: Andreas Cornelius (12) / Europe: N/A
Parma comfortably avoided relegation but were left to rue a post-pandemic collapse, which saw their push for European football falter, writes Livio Caferoglu.
If you offered Parma 11th place at the start of the season, with a points tally good enough for the top half, they’d surely have taken it with both hands. Yet judging by how their 2019-20 campaign went, there is an over-riding sense of disappointment. The Ducali’s form had fallen off a cliff during post-lockdown, to the extent their Serie A status was still not secure going into Week 34, but before that they were in the mix for Europa League qualification.
Parma marked their return to the top flight with a placing of 14th last season and looked to build on that. They worked shrewdly in the transfer market, signing Matteo Darmian for peanuts, bringing back Roberto Inglese and pulling off buy-now-pay-later deals for striker Andreas Cornelius, midfielder Hernani and winger Yann Karamoh. They also snapped up Dejan Kulusevski on a season-long loan, fresh from helping Atalanta win the Primavera title.
They started slowly with three defeats in their first four games, where they faced Scudetto challengers Juventus and Lazio, but dusted themselves down soon enough with as many wins in their next four. The highlight was a 5-1 thrashing of Genoa, which saw Cornelius score the first of his two hat-tricks against the Grifone. It also saw Kulusevski come to mainstream consciousness for the first time, helping himself to a goal and two assists.
Parma lost just twice between November and mid-January, picking up big victories over Roma, Sampdoria and Napoli, but their season then threatened to self-destruct. Inglese broke down with another long-term injury, before Cornelius, Vincent Laurini, Luigi Sepe, Juraj Kucka, Matteo Scozzarella, Antonino Barillà and Andrea Adorante all followed suit with spells on the sidelines. Meanwhile, Gervinho tried and failed to force a move to Qatar.
Parma also risked losing Kulusevski when Atalanta sold him to Juventus in January, but the Bianconeri kindly allowed him to continue his development at the Tardini for the rest of 2019-20. Just when it seemed the Crociati had regained their momentum, given they were sitting just three points off a Europa League place at the start of March, their efforts were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent three-month lockdown.
At one stage, the break appeared to do Parma the world of good, as Cornelius hit another hat-trick against Genoa on their return. However, they went on to lose six of their next seven, throwing away a 2-0 lead in their 3-2 defeat to Sampdoria. With it all to do in their final four fixtures, the Emilians not only ensured another season of Serie A football with a 2-1 win against Napoli but also a mid-table finish, beating relegated pair Brescia and Lecce.
The Coach - Roberto D’Aversa
D’Aversa’s stock is showing no signs of slowing after he took Parma further forward in his fourth season at the helm. The Germany-born coach was appointed in December 2016 and led them back into Serie B just months later, before winning another promotion to Serie A and keeping them in the top flight at the first time of asking. He built on that progress in 2019-20 with an improved finish and points tally and, with Qatari investment seemingly on the horizon, the future looks bright for the club. Whether it includes the coach remains to be seen.
Player of the Year - Dejan Kulusevski
Kulusevski came out of obscurity for some, but real fans of Italian football knew it was only a matter of time before he burst onto the scene. The hero of Atalanta’s Primavera title-winning 18-19 campaign, following in the footsteps of Nicolò Zaniolo, he dazzled on the right wing during his season on loan at Parma with 10 goals and nine assists. The Swede’s performances were so impressive that he earned himself a big-money move to Juventus in January. Another huge find for Atalanta – and another huge profit.
Highlights - Genoa 1-4 Parma
Parma restarted the campaign with a bang in June, scoring four goals at Marassi to complete consecutive league doubles over Genoa. Andreas Cornelius bagged his second hat-trick of the season and Luigi Sepe pulled off his second penalty save in as many games. The result catapulted them to within just three points of a Europa League spot, level on points with Milan, but a calamitous collapse in form saw them lose six of their next seven games.
Nightmare - Parma 2-3 Sampdoria
Parma’s rotten run after lockdown culminated in a devastating defeat to Sampdoria. They made the ideal start, going 2-0 up inside the first 40 minutes, but the second half was a different story with Fabio Quagliarella scoring and assisting the winner in a 3-2 loss for the hosts. The Ducali plummeted to 14th place with four matches remaining and only made sure of their Serie A status for another season the following matchday against Napoli.
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