MAPEI STADIUM (Reggio Emilia) – Parma’s trip to take on Sassuolo was never going to be easy with Dejan Kulusevski and Juraj Kucka, but the Crociati managed to take all three points back with them on Sunday afternoon.
Both the Swede and the Slovak joined long-term absence Luigi Sepe in missing out on the short trip to Reggio Emilia, and that they weren’t playing was evident from the start.
Roberto D’Aversa is often happy for his side to soak up pressure and try their luck on the break, and that was again the approach against Roberto De Zerbi’s side, who love dominating the ball and probing opposing defences.
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The game was always set up nicely for both sides, though Parma’s absentees shifted expectations onto their hosts.
Jeremie Boga, Domenico Berardi, Filip Djuricic and Francesco Caputo all started and while they tried to breach Bruno Alves and co.’s backline, Parma stood firm and protected Simone Colombi’s goal for most of the first half.
On the two occasions that Sassuolo got beyond the last line of defence Caputo dragged a strike wide and Colombi did well to deny Pedro Obiang.
Neither Gervinho nor Luca Siligardi can offer the same energy and drive as Kucka and Kulusevski can, nor is the Ivorian the same force in attack as the 19-year-old.
Kucka is consistently the engine in Parma’s front two lines while Kulusevski regularly covers more ground than anyone.
The goal, though, came thanks good pressing from Jasmin Kurtic who won the ball back in midfield and set Andreas Cornelius loose on the left before the Dane centred to Gervinho for a tap in.
“Those who took to the pitch today fought hard and dug in,” D’Aversa told the assembled journalists at his post-match press conference.
“I think that we managed to limit a side with two of the best wingers in the league in Berardi and Boga really well.
“People often talk about aesthetics but the three points are what count at the end of the day.”
Gaston Brugman offered some protection in front of Bruno Alves and Simone Iacoponi, but at times he was just overrun by the sheer number of Neroverdi shirts flooding around him.
D’Aversa changed things up in the second half by bringing on Giuseppe Pezzella for Siligardi and Parma’s usual four-man rearguard then had five men in it.
Alberto Grassi’s introduction for Gervinho also added some fight into midfield and Colombi’s heroics to deny everything Ciccio Caputo threw at him proved enough.
“On top of our many absentees, there were still some players who were struggling,” the coach continued after the game.
“Unfortunately, Darmian had to come off, while Bruno Alves was one of the players who took a knock during the week but still played today, staying out on the pitch for the entire game.
“Gagliolo [Riccardo] didn’t train either earlier in the week but stuck it out today.
“These problematic circumstances led us to switch to 3-5-2, although the lads did great considering the difficulties. The guys have shown great maturity right from day one.
“Obviously, you can’t win every match but the lads never let me down in terms of attitude.”
Even without some of their most important players, Parma took the derby spoils and they’re now level on points with Hellas Verona who occupy the final Europa League place.
With the Coppa Italia semi-finals having both Inter and Juventus involved, the Crociati could well clinch European football by finishing seventh.
Either the Old Lady or the Nerazzurri going on to lift the Coppa come the end of the season will see the competition’s European place being transferred over to Serie A, and seventh place will then go into the Europa League’s qualification rounds.
There’s a long way to run yet, but Parma have again shown, even without three key starters, that they’re up for the fight and look more convincing by the week.