There were less than two minutes left until kick-off when Antonio Conte finally emerged from the changing room. The newspaper Tuttosport had heralded this moment as the "end of a nightmare" for the Juventus manager, but any light at the end of the tunnel at Palermo will have been obscured by clouds from the impending hailstorm.
Conte, of course, did not mind. Four months had passed since he was suspended from sideline duties – 122 days in which he had been forced to forego his place in the dugout and watch matches from the more sanitised setting of a corporate box. He would later joke that his wife had to install a manager's bench for him in the family home.
Not that he had much use for such a thing on Sunday. No sooner had the game begun than Conte was out prowling his technical area, issuing commands to his midfield and inciting greater effort from his wing-backs. When the skies began to open he threw on a cap but resisted the temptation to withdraw to his sheltered seat.
This, after all, was the one thing his team had been missing. Conte's suspension had not prevented him from coaching Juventus during the week, nor from drawing up his schemes to counteract each opponent. He retained control over the team's daily schedule, his rules governing even how players were allowed to get home after European away games.
Landing back in Italy in the small hours of the morning – 4.10am in the case of this week's win in Donetsk – Juventus' players have been required to return to the Vinovo training ground together on the team bus, rather than being met by friends and family at Turin's Caselle airport. According to Gazzetta dello Sport, the ruse was designed to ensure that they would be too tired to contemplate heading out for a meal or drink.
Conte has a strong relationship, too, with the men who would fill in for him on the bench – Massimo Carrera, then Angelo Alessio – both of whom he has trusted to interpret his instructions appropriately. They performed their duties admirably, reaching this point of the season with a two-point lead at the top of Serie A and having won their Champions League group.
What they could not convey, though, was his presence. As the goalkeeper Gigi Buffon would put it after the game: "Having Conte in the dressing room makes it impossible for anyone to go out on to the pitch not focused on the task at hand."
Little wonder, then, that Conte should find himself the centre of attention on Sunday. In the buildup to the weekend, Italy's newspapers wrote incessantly about either "Conte Day" or even just "C Day". On Sunday itself, Sky Sport dedicated a camera to tracking the manager throughout the entire match.
So it was that fans were able to see Conte vent his frustration in the 36th minute, as Mirko Vucinic prodded the rebound from a saved Claudio Marchisio effort against a post. And again in the 46th, when the Montenegrin's low drive across the face of goal brushed the woodwork once more.
Vucinic would soon make amends, playing in Stephan Lichtsteiner with a devilish backheel only four minutes later. After seeing the latter slot home, Conte embraced his nearest colleague for a moment, before swivelling straight back towards the field to bark instructions at Andrea Pirlo.
That would prove to be the only goal of the game, the hosts managing only one attempt on target all afternoon. Juve, by contrast, might have had a hatful with some better finishing. But somehow the 1-0 margin at Stadio Renzo Barbera seemed to fit the occasion. The most commonly cited quality of Conte's Juve during their unbeaten run was always a capacity for grinding out results, even when not performing brilliantly.
At full-time Conte threw himself into the celebrations, hugging every player he came across before milking the applause of the away support. "It is inevitable that when you are missing the field of play, the smell of the grass, there is going to be pain," he said. "I have gone through four months of pain, but I am coming out of it stronger. Even if you work for the whole week with the team, the emotion of a game is important.
"I had to deal with this situation and I think that it was formative in every sense. The team has responded in an extraordinary way. It shows I have special players and a special team. And maybe I am special too."
So special is Conte that he was able to double Juventus' lead at the top of Serie A to four points by the end of the day – even if he does have a more modest rival to thank. Inter's Andrea Stramaccioni insisted that he was still just a "Normal One" after his team leapfrogged second-place Napoli with a 2-1 win at San Siro on Sunday evening.
"We are not the anti-Juve, we are not the anti-anything," said Stramaccioni – fighting a losing battle against the next day's headlines. "The last time that you landed us with that epithet we crumbled. Jokes apart we will enjoy this victory, but tomorrow we will be concentrated on [next Saturday's fixture against] Lazio in Rome – one of the toughest away fixtures in Italy."
Inter ought not to be fazed by such a prospect. So far under Stramaccioni they have consistently played their best football against the biggest teams. This season they have beaten Juventus, Milan, Fiorentina and Napoli. During the few weeks that he was in charge at the end of the previous campaign, Stramaccioni oversaw a further victory over the Rossoneri, as well as another one away to the then high-flying Udinese.
Such results are no accident. Stramaccioni has shown himself already in his brief tenure to be an astute tactician, capable of analysing the weaknesses in an opponent and adjusting his own team accordingly. In Turin last month his bold decision to go with a three-man attack of Antonio Cassano, Rodrigo Palacio and Diego Milito was fully vindicated in the 3-1 win that ended Juve's unbeaten run.
Against Napoli he took the opposite tack, pulling a player out of the attacking trident and switching to a 3-4-1-2 with Fredy Guarín serving as an all-action trequartista. He swung a further surprise by starting Esteban Cambiasso at centre-back ahead of Matías Silvestre. Both moves were resounding successes.
Inter had been ruthless too, scoring with their first two shots on goal. They were also grateful to some poor finishing from Napoli, yet simultaneously unfortunate to concede the one goal they did give up. Goran Pandev appeared to be in an offside position in the buildup to Edinson Cavani's eventual close-range strike.
Either way, Stramaccioni's reluctance to take on the anti-Juve mantle seems wise – given that Inter had won only one of their previous six games leading into this weekend. As impressive as his team have been in the big games, they have also lost four times in the league this season – including a defeat at home to last-placed Siena. Napoli have the opposite problem, their general form undermined by defeats such as this one in their marquee fixtures.
It remains to be seen whether either they, or another team such as Lazio or Fiorentina, are capable of achieving the consistency required to keep pace with a Juventus team who, despite having lost twice, are still four points better off than at the corresponding point last year. And who will no longer need to make do without their manager at the times when they need him most.
• Also worth revisiting from Juventus' win is this brilliantly absurd dive from Leonardo Bonucci. Who did at least apologise afterwards on Twitter, claiming to have "learned my lesson".
• Inter's victory provides the team with a timely distraction from the Wesley Sneijder saga, the club seemingly no closer to resolving their differences with the Dutchman. Instead we have seen the player linked with all manner of different destinations – from Paris St-Germain to LA Galaxy – while Stramaccioni continues to protest that the player is being excluded purely on grounds of technical merit. Which would, of course, be easier to believe if the club director, Marco Branca, hadn't previously suggested otherwise. "This story is getting boring," said the Inter president, Massimo Moratti, before kick-off on Sunday. He might be correct, but that doesn't mean it is going to go away any time soon.
• Vincenzo Montella returned to the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday only to be upstaged by a former team-mate. Francesco Totti is less than two years Montella's junior, but outshone much younger talents as he scored twice and set up a third goal during Roma's 4-2 victory over Fiorentina. It is tempting to wonder how things might have been different if David Pizarro – another former Roma player – had been available, but the midfielder had flown back to Chile last week following the death of his sister. As it was, Fiorentina still more than played their part in the most entertaining game of the weekend, and were perhaps let down by some poor goalkeeping from Emiliano Viviano. But to dwell on such considerations would feel churlish, when we could instead just be celebrating Totti's impudent brilliance.
• Milan continued their upward progress with a 4-2 win at Torino, though there was some bad news in the form of a ruptured achilles tendon for Nigel de Jong. He is not expected back again this season.
• Gigi Del Neri's position at Genoa only looks more precarious following a 2-0 defeat to Pescara that leaves his team 19th – only one point above last-placed Siena, who began the season with a six-point deduction. Since replacing Luigi De Canio in October, Del Neri has lost seven of his eight games in charge, and after Sunday's defeat there were reports that he argued with his players in the changing room. Already reports are beginning to surface that De Canio could soon be restored to his post.
Results: Atalanta 2-1 Parma, Cagliari 0-2 Chievo, Inter 2-1 Napoli, Palermo 0-1 Juventus, Pescara 2-0 Genoa, Roma 4-2 Fiorentina, Siena 1-3 Catania, Torino 2-4 Milan