Just over a year ago, Empoli welcomed Parma to their home of the Carlo Castellini on matchday 26 in Serie B. Both teams were aiming for the title then, and a win would surely help them fulfil their dream. The match ended with a dominant win for Empoli, directly leading to them being crowned as champions 12 rounds later on.
A year later, the same situation occurred on the same matchday. But this time, both teams treated their fans with a thrilling clash that ended with six goals. Parma with a high-intensity pressing game had caused a lot of troubles for Empoli. The home side countered with a fast-tempo attacking play, which helped them secure a draw in the last minute. Using tactical analysis, we will figure out how Empoli salvaged a draw against Parma.
Empoli opted to use their same lineup from the last match, with Francesco Caputo and Diego Farias leading the line. Cristian Dell’Orco, Matiás Silvestre and ex-Manchester United academy Frédéric Veseli formed the back-three with Bartłomej Drągowski started in goal. Ismaël Bennacer anchored the midfield while Rade Krunić was on his left and Afriyie Acquah on the opposite side.
Parma had two changes, Antonio Barillà replaced new signing Pepín. Former Hellas Verona man Luca Siligardi was chosen to fill in the spot that Jonathan Biabiany left behind. Gervinho continued the search for his ninth goal of the season as he started alongside Roberto Inglese. Atlético Madrid loanee Nicolas Schiappacasse appeared on the bench for two consecutive matches, and he would act as a “wildcard.”
Parma’s positive approach
Parma tended to start their attacks using long passes, this season they have registered an average of 61.7 long passes. In the early stage of this game, the away side exploited the space behind Empoli’s defensive line with direct passes. But none of them were converted into chances, mainly because Inglese continuously fell into the offside trap.
After some unsuccessful attacks, Parma started to shift their focus onto both flanks. By utilising Gervinho and Siligardi’s pace, they would drag the outside centre-back (and a wing-back if possible) with the winger. This created spaces in the middle area for both Inglese and the central midfielders to move into.
One of these situations brought Parma an early goal, as Pasqual fouled Siligardi near the final third. The situation that led to the goal was nothing special, but the free-kick was. The shot below sees Empoli players created an offside trap, preventing any through balls that came from the taker. But they were focused on the ball rather than Gervinho, who began his run through the line. Only Silvestre noticed his run, and one player was not enough to stop the Ivorian opening the score.
Empoli started to push forward in numbers, which left spaces in their own half. Parma wanted to utilise this fact by using counter-attacks, especially into that right-hand side. The away side were dominant on that right side, with half of their attacks coming from Siligardi and Iacoponi.
Still, despite creating many great chances towards Drągowski’s goal, most of them were from set-pieces or individual efforts. And the fact that Inglese was having a bad day in front of goal forced Parma to find another solution. Surprisingly, D’Aversa didn’t use his last substitution on either Schiappacasse or Mattia Sprocati. This showed that Parma relied heavily on the force of Gervinho and Inglese. And when either was shut down, their attack was immediately paralysed.
Parma’s defensive structure
In defence, though, their overall performance was quite average despite some errors. When not in possession, they formed a deep defensive line in front of Sepe’s goal. Luca Rigoni would drop off his line just like a half-back, locating himself between Bruno Alves and Riccardo Gagliolo. This would prevent any through balls or one-twos into Parma’s final third, which led to Empoli taking more long shots.
But they were lucky that both Caputo and Rade Krunić weren’t able to capitalise on their chances. At the same time they must give credit to Sepe, he had many important saves to save Parma a point. In total, he made six saves throughout the game, five of them was inside the box. That’s two more compared to his colleague on the other side of the field.
Up front, the strikers would press the opposition defenders aggressively, in order to get the ball as fast as possible. They would suffocate Drągowski’s passing options by following the centre-backs, forcing him to play long passes.
The shot below demonstrated another example of Parma’s pressing style of play. Here, two Parma players surrounded Di Lorenzo. Gobbi was trying to win the ball while Gervinho blocked Di Lorenzo’s option of passing back to the goalkeeper. Their aim is to suffocate the ball-carrying player, forcing them to clear the ball or give the ball away. In the meantime, Di Lorenzo’s teammates were also being marked by at least one Parma player. This would prevent any Empoli players from offering a passing option, and stopped them from building from the back.
Parma also created a two-layer defensive structure, the style which will be familiar to those who usually watch Atlético Madrid. But instead of using two four-man defensive lines, they stretched the distance between the three central midfielders. This allowed them to shift from side-to-side without breaking the structure and receiving support from the wingers.
Empoli’s second-half turnaround
Empoli had a tepid first half due to the pressure that came from Parma, and Giuseppe Iachini was forced to changed his tactics. They shifted their focus onto Di Lorenzo’s right side, but still started their attacks from the left side if needed. Iachini instructed Farias to drift wide, allowing the Italian right-back to cut inside and create some impacts. But they still favoured crossing the ball into the box rather than making one-twos.
They tended to build their attacks from the back and waited patiently for spaces to open up. That is why they continued to hold a majority of the possession in the second half, which stood at 64%. And as a result, they created 14 chances, five of them were on target. But Empoli encountered the same problem as Parma, their chances mainly came from set-pieces and individual efforts. At least they were more precise in converting their chances, allowing them to have two equalising goals.
In defence, they applied a pressing game which was similar to Parma’s. The strikers would follow the opponent’s defenders, preventing them to build from the back. If Sepe played a long ball up front, Silvestre and Veseli would use their physical advantage to clear the ball.
Another point that stood out was how Iachini used Dell’Orco as a centre-back. He started off at Sassuolo as a left-back and rarely appeared in the centre of the defence. But Iachini saw his physical and pace advantage, and he decided to use Dell’Orco as a left-sided centre-back. He provided speed to the defence and could overlap when needed. He would also become a good cover for Silvestre if the Argentinian defender decided to step out of the line.
Empoli and Parma had provided their fans with a thrilling clash, and it showed why they deserved to play in Serie A. Although there was no goal that really came from open play, it was still an interesting match to watch. Empoli stepped up their game in the second half in order to get a point, and their efforts paid off. If they were more clinical in front of goal, things would have different, but a point was enough for them.
A similar case might have happened for Parma if they could convert their chances. Roberto D’Aversa has a lot to do to get Parma back to their glory days. But for now, a mid-table finish is what they need to secure.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Pre-order your copy of the March issue for just ₤4.99 here, or even better sign up for a ₤50 annual membership (12 monthly issues plus the annual review) right here.