The line between respect and deference can often be a fine one. In the days leading up to Lazio's visit from Juventus, Miroslav Klose strayed so far across it that you wondered whether he might be preparing to fall on his knees and offer up a tribute. "If we find our rhythm, win our duels and have a bit of luck then maybe we could grab a draw [against them]," said the Lazio striker. "Certainly we would like to avoid conceding four goals."
In fairness to Klose, that was exactly what had happened on each of the past two occasions that these teams had met, the champions pummelling Lazio 4-0 in the pre-season Super Cup before thrashing them 4-1 in the league a fortnight later. The Biancocelesti had changed managers since then, Edy Reja replacing Vladimir Petkovic, but even the former seemed daunted by the task ahead of him, referring to Juventus as "Martians".
Nobody would dispute that the Old Lady's performance through the first part of this season had been otherworldly. Antonio Conte's side have coasted to 55 points from 20 games but while Lazio had achieved less than half of that figure, they went into the fixture on the back of an undefeated record of three wins and a draw since Reja's arrival at the start of the year.
It was an impressively swift turnaround after a dismal end to Petkovic's tenure. His final game in charge had been a 4-1 defeat to Verona just before Christmas, a result that left Lazio closer to the relegation zone than a European berth. If the team's owner, Claudio Lotito, was unhappy with such results, then he was positively livid when he discovered that his manager had already agreed to take over the Swiss national team after the 2014 World Cup.
"Like finding your wife in bed with another man," was how Lotito described it, so perhaps it was no surprise that he should run straight back into the arms of an old flame. Reja managed Lazio from February 2010 through to May 2012, lifting them out of a relegation battle in his first, partial, season before guiding them to fifth and fourth-placed finishes over the next two years.
Many were surprised that he would want this job back. Reja had walked out 19 months ago after growing frustrated at Lotito's failure to back him in the transfer market, as well as angry at the treatment he was receiving from some supporters. The manager's wife had been abused in the street by angry Ultras, a situation that Reja could not abide.
And so, at 66 years old, he had prepared himself to ride off into a happy retirement. Lotito, though, kept calling, bending Reja's ear about this or that footballing conundrum. By the time the owner finally ditched Petkovic, his old manager did not take much persuading. He took charge of his first training session before his predecessor had even formally been fired (a whole different story in itself).
Nobody was happier to have him back than Klose, a player with whom he had enjoyed an excellent working relationship last time around. When Reja had attempted to quit Lazio for the first time in September 2011, the striker had dragged him aside at the training ground and begged him to rethink. Only the manager knows how big a part that played in his decision to stay a little longer.
It was fitting, that Klose should score the first goal of Reja's second tenure, his 81st-minute volley sealing a 1-0 win over Internazionale on 6 January. And for all the player's fretting over four-goal defeats, it was he again who would put Lazio in position to take an early lead over Juventus on Saturday. Timing his run to perfection, Klose slipped behind the defence in the 24th minute and on to a through-ball from Abdoulay Konko. Reaching it just outside the six-yard box, he was immediately brought down by the onrushing Gigi Buffon.
A penalty was awarded and the goalkeeper rightly sent off. Antonio Candreva stepped up to convert the spot-kick. Just like that, Lazio found themselves both a goal and a man to the good. The champions were there for the taking.
Except that Juventus rallied as great teams do, continuing to attack despite their numerical inferiority. In the 60th minute they equalised, Fernando Llorente meeting a Stephan Lichtsteiner cross with a superb header that looped over Lazio's Etrit Berisha and into the far corner of the net.
There would be further chances at both ends, although Lazio had the better of them. With just under a quarter of an hour remaining, Buffon's replacement, Marco Storari, pulled off a bewildering reaction save to deny Klose – pushing the German's close-range header on to the crossbar. Not long after that, Lazio's 18-year-old winger, Keita, beat the goalkeeper with a ferocious in-swinging shot across goal, only to see it come back off the far post.
The game ended 1-1, leaving both teams with mixed emotions. Juventus had survived their disastrous start, but nevertheless saw their run of 12 consecutive victories come to an end. Lazio had become the first team to take points off the Bianconeri in almost four months but were left ruing their failure to press home that early advantage.
Both teams should see more good than bad in this result. Roma's victory over Verona a day later cut Juventus's lead at the top to six points but if this is what passes for a bad day at the office for Conte's team these days, then that gap will still take some closing.
Lazio might ultimately have fulfilled Klose's prophecy: playing their best football and grabbing only a draw, and yet in doing so they were able to maintain their unbeaten start under Reja. Although the manager has significantly altered his team's formation, playing the most recent two games in a counterattacking 3-4-2-1, his greatest success has simply been in getting the best out of players who had been underachieving under Petkovic.
The clearest example this weekend could be found in the midfield pairing of Lucas Biglia and Cristian Ledesma. In each of the two games they had started together so far this season, Lazio had conceded four goals – their shared lack of pace exploited all too easily. On Sunday they provided an effective shield to the back-line.
They might never be Reja's first-choice partnership and likely would not have started together on Saturday were it not for a suspension to Ogenyi Onazi, plus the manager's desire not to rush Alvaro González back from a minor knock. The fact that they were able to work effectively in tandem allows the manager options where his predecessor seemed to have none.
As recently as 13 January Klose (quite the pessimist, it turns out) had told Die Wiet that, "It will be hard for us to qualify for the Europa League. We have left too many points along the way." Now it does not seem so implausible. Five points separate Lazio from fifth place. There is a long way to go yet but Reja's Lazio have shown that they need not feel inferior to anyone.
• Arsène Wenger might feel cheesed off at Chelsea's decision to sell Juan Mata to Manchester United after those two teams had already played each other twice in the league but at least it was not his own directors' sense of timing that he found himself lamenting. One or two Napoli fans might have been doing exactly that on Saturday night after watching Roma pick apart a Verona side who had just sold Jorginho – one of their best performers this season – to the Partenopei. Would things have gone differently if the midfielder was present? It is, of course, impossible to say, and Napoli's goalkeeper, Pepe Reina, was in any case more concerned with the debatable penalty from which Roma got their final goal in the 3-1 victory. "What the fuck kind of penalty is this?" he wrote on Twitter after the referee Paolo Mazzoleni pointed to the spot following a challenge by Rafael Marques on Vasilis Torosidis. "Mamma mia."
• An even dodgier decision paved the way for Torino's 1-0 win over Atalanta, Andrea Consigli adjudged to have fouled Alessio Cerci in the box, when in fact the goalkeeper had punched the ball clear before colliding with his opponent. The referee Paolo Tagliavento saw things differently, awarding the spot-kick which Cerci stepped up to convert. Torino, Parma and Verona are all level on 32 points – one point behind Inter in the final Europa League spot.
• As for Inter, oh dear. The Nerazzurri drew 0-0 at home to last-placed Catania on Sunday, capping a week in which they confirmed the absolute lack of coherence in their transfer policy by first agreeing to swap Fredy Guarín for Mirko Vucinic, and then changing their mind at the last minute . They are yet to win a game in 2014, and have failed to score in four of their five fixtures so far this calendar year. Erick Thohir, back in Italy to oversee his team's activity from here to the end of the transfer window, has a busy week ahead of him.
• Milan were knocked out of the Coppa Italia by Udinese on Wednesday, but they too are back in the hunt for a Europa League place after two goals in the final four minutes propelled them to a come-from-behind win over Cagliari. The signing of Michael Essien from Chelsea will also be welcomed by the manager Clarence Seedorf, even if it does seem out of step with Barbara Berlusconi's desired policy of seeking out younger, cheaper players whose value can be increased.
• Alberto Aquilani got the first hat-trick of his career, and had a fourth goal wrongly disallowed, in a badly officiated but entertaining 3-3 draw between Fiorentina and Genoa on Sunday night. The Rossoblu had taken the lead through a penalty that even their own manager felt should not have been awarded, and had the better luck all-round in a game where both teams had bad decisions go against them. As a result, Fiorentina missed the chance to close to within a single point of third-placed Napoli.
• One more thought on Roma. During their winning run at the start of this season, it was said repeatedly that the true measure of this team would be the way in which they responded to their first defeat. Well, so far the Giallorossi have played five games since losing to Juventus on 5 January. They have won all of them.
Results: Cagliari 1-2 Milan, Fiorentina 3-3 Genoa, Inter 0-0 Catania, Lazio 1-1 Juventus, Livorno 3-1 Sassuolo, Napoli 1-1 Chievo, Parma 1-0 Udinese, Sampdoria 1-1 Bologna, Torino 1-0 Atalanta, Verona 1-3 Roma