Back in December, two days after Juventus were eliminated from the Champions League, Antonio Conte found himself fielding questions about Carlos Tevez's contribution to the team. The forward had not scored once in six group stage appearances, confirming, in the eyes of some journalists, a fundamental shortcoming in his game. As one or two were keen to point out, his last strike in continental competition dated back to 2009.
Conte responded to such criticisms in a voice thick with disdain. "I do not judge an attacker on the basis of the goals that he scores," he said. "I have been here for three years and I think you know by now how I judge my forwards. When an attacker scores but does not do the work they were supposed to do, then I am not happy with them. I judge on behalf of the team, you lot judge on individual performances."
Lately, it has not mattered what criteria you choose to judge Tevez. Conte continues to praise the player's energetic and aggressive approach, harrying opponents high up the pitch to set the tone for his team's relentless pressing game. Even those observers who do not appreciate such efforts have been able to sit back and enjoy the goals that the manager claims not to worry about.
If Tevez's dry run in Europe has endured, domestically the picture is very different indeed. He arrived at Wednesday's game against Parma in joint-first position on the Serie A scoring charts, a match-winning strike against Catania at the weekend having brought him back level with Torino's Ciro Immobile on 16 goals.
Already, that figure puts him on a level footing with some of the club's all-time greats. Both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Michel Platini scored 16 in their first seasons at Juventus, while David Trezeguet settled for 14. Tevez still has a little way to go to catch Felice Borel, who struck 29 times in his debut campaign back in 1932-33 but, before the match against Parma, he needed only two more to catch Pippo Inzaghi on 18.
He got them both, puncturing the defence twice in the space of seven first-half minutes. The first was classic Tevez, barrelling past two defenders down the right before angling a low drive across Antonio Mirante. The goalkeeper probably should have done better, and was at fault again for the striker's second, parrying an Arturo Vidal shot straight into Tevez's path for the striker to gratefully side-foot the ball home.
That ought to have been that. Juventus, chasing a record-breaking 15th straight home victory in Serie A, have not been in the habit of giving up two-goal leads to anybody. Parma had arrived in Turin on the back of a 17-game unbeaten run of their own – one that included away wins over both Napoli and Milan – but with Antonio Cassano struggling to make his presence felt, it was hard to see how they could recover.
And yet, they would certainly make a go of it. Cristian Molinaro, a former Juventus player, pulled back a goal early in the second half with a volley from the edge of the box. Parma's task was subsequently complicated further by a red card to Amauri (another Bianconeri ex) moments later, but still they kept on pushing.
In the 89th minute, Molinaro let fly with another well-struck effort that seemed to be heading for the bottom corner until Gigi Buffon intervened. Even then, the keeper could push the ball out only as far as Marco Parolo on the edge of the six-yard box. The midfielder was fouled by Leonardo Bonucci before he had the chance to pass the ball into an unguarded net. No penalty was given.
The game ended 2-1, Juventus going past Torino's record of 14 consecutive home wins, which they set in 1975-76, and restoring their lead at the top of Serie A to 14 points. If Parma had cause to feel aggrieved, then the overwhelming sentiment for the Bianconeri must have been simple gratitude towards Tevez.
As unreasonable as it might sound, given their league standing, the truth is that Juventus have not played that well lately. Worn down by a long season, and hindered by injuries, they have been unable to dictate games as they did earlier in the campaign. Although they have won five of their past six matches across all competitions, each of those victories came by a single goal.
And while Conte might prefer to focus on team achievement, the reality is that his team has been dragged through this patch first and foremost by individual talents. It was only late free-kicks from Andrea Pirlo that sealed away victories over Genoa and Fiorentina. Likewise, strikes from Tevez have now earned Juventus two wins in the space of four days.
So if Conte is correct to assert that the goals are not all that matters in a striker's performance, then he is also disingenuous to suggest they do not matter at all. Last season a midfielder, Arturo Vidal, was the team's leading goalscorer with 15 strikes in all competitions. The criticism of Juventus then was that they dropped too many points over their lack of cutting edge.
This season, there have been no such complaints. Tevez – signed, lest we forget, for just €9m up front and a further €3m or so in bonuses – has leapfrogged Immobile back into first place in the scoring charts. Juventus are on pace to shatter the Serie A points record. Those two facts are not unconnected, as Conte himself must privately recognise.
• The bad news for Juventus is that Tevez will not be available for their game away to Napoli on Sunday, after collecting his fourth yellow card. It was noteworthy that Antonio Conte withdrew Fernando Llorente – who had also been just one booking away from a ban – as soon as the Argentinian received his caution on Wednesday night.
• A 2-0 victory over Livorno made it five wins in a row for Atalanta – equalling the club's top-flight record set in 1990-91. With a game against 17th-placed Bologna coming up at the weekend, they have a very real chance to go on and break it.
• After claiming a last-gasp win over Torino on Tuesday, Roma unveiled plans for their new 52,000-seater stadium the following morning. The plans, it must be said, look pretty impressive, from the 360 degree video board running the circumference of the stadium through to the Colosseum-inspired design. If the club really can get it finished by the start of the 2016-17 season, as they aim to do, that would be a major step forward for Roma's ambitions. It might also be significant in convincing further clubs that this is the way forward, despite scepticism around the new stadium law.
• Mario Balotelli was the star of the show for Milan as they claimed a 2-0 victory away to Fiorentina. It was his free-kick that led to Philippe Mexes's opening goal, the defender heading home after Neto had blocked the initial attempt back out into the middle of the box. Balotelli then scored the second himself from another set-piece, this one blasted into the top right corner. Thursday's newspapers were full of headlines about how his efforts had saved Clarence Seedorf's job, but the striker himself was unconvinced. "You say that I saved Seedorf? In my opinion we didn't save anyone: it's not because you lose one, two or three games that things can go badly."
Results: Roma 2-1 Torino, Fiorentina 0-2 Milan, Atalanta 2-0 Livorno, Cagliari 1-0 Verona, Catania 2-4 Napoli, Chievo 3-0 Bologna, Sassuolo 1-2 Sampdoria, Juventus 2-1 Parma, Genoa 2-0 Lazio