Conor Clancy Date: 24th July 2020 at 4:13pm
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STADIO ENNIO TARDINI (Parma) – It’s not through coincidence that Parma’s return to winning ways, eight games later, came as Bruno Alves and Kastriot Dermaku returned to the heart of their defence against Napoli.

The central-defensive pairing returned on Wednesday evening for the first time since the Crociati’s painful defeat to Inter, though the hosts were leading 1-0 when the Albanian was withdrawn for Vasco Regini in the 79th minute.

In his 13 appearances in Serie A this season, particularly in the two starts he’s had since lockdown, Dermaku has proven himself to be, by some distance, the best option available to Roberto D’Aversa to accompany his captain at the back.

They proved as much against Inter in what was one of the Gialloblu’s best performances of the season until the last ten minutes, by which point the partnership had been split up and the Nerazzurri scored twice to steal all three points.

Until Dermaku’s departure, he and Alves had completely nullified Romelu Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez and even Alexis Sanchez after he replaced Christian Eriksen.

But D’Aversa’s changes were soon followed by an implosion. Dermaku departed, Alves shifted to the more unfamiliar role as the right-sided centre-back and Regini slotted into the Portuguese’s regular slot.

For most of the 2019/20 season, Dermaku has played backup to Simone Iacoponi, who has been Alves’ regular partner at the back having been first-choice right-back for 2018/19.

But since Serie A’s restart, the 28-year-old has, alongside his 38-year-old partner, helped to add solidity to the Crociati’s backline that they haven’t quite seen since Alessandro Bastoni departed at the end of 2018/19, having developed an excellent relationship with Bruno Alves at the back.

No signs of slowing down

Whether it’s been Bastoni, Dermaku, Iacoponi or Riccardo Gaglioli by his side, Bruno Alves has proven again in 2019/20 that he’s one of a handful of players that Parma cannot be without.

Now well into his 39th year, the European Championship winner has done nothing to suggest that his career is winding down and his importance was again clear against Napoli.

The Portuguese was in constant contact with those to his side and in front of him, and when his teammates were in possession he was often the player they looked to find with their passes.

More than just a dominant presence at in defence, the No.22 is just as important to Parma in possession and his passing range is something that not many defenders can boast.