Antonio Conte felt he had behaved with great civility, under the circumstances. No sooner had the full-time whistle blown on his team's 1-1 draw with Genoa than the Juventus manager stormed on to the pitch to confront the referee Marco Guida, screaming the word "Vergogna!" – "Shame!" – right into the face of the official. Moments earlier, Guida had declined to award Juve a penalty for an apparent handball by Andreas Granqvist inside the area.
The way Conte told it, though, it was not the decision that pushed him over the edge so much as the referee's justification for it. "When I hear certain things, 'shame' is the least I can say," Conte insisted in his post-match press conference. "[The goalline official Andrea] Romeo said it was a penalty. But Guida explained that he didn't feel up to awarding it."
It was an extraordinary claim, Conte effectively suggesting that the referee had not only bottled the call, but then confessed as much just seconds later. "I've had enough," the manager continued. "I can accept a mistake if someone tells me 'I didn't see it', but not that they just didn't feel up to it. This is not football. We work hard all week and we want fairness [when it comes to the games]."
As if that wasn't strong enough, the team's general manager, Beppe Marotta, also waded into the controversy just a few minutes later. He suggested that Guida should never have been appointed to the match in the first place. "It was a serious error," he said. "I'm sure it wasn't an act of bad faith, but the referee Guida, from Torre Annunziata – a province of Naples – was clearly in difficulty and I would question the appointment. Imagine if they sent a referee from Turin to take a Napoli game."
It was a reaction reminiscent of that from the Catania president, Antonio Pulvirenti, following his team's controversial home defeat by Juve earlier this season. Back then Pulivirenti claimed to have seen evidence that the linesman Luca Maggiani supported Juventus – citing a Facebook page which turned out to have been set up by a supporter with no connection to the official. On Saturday night Juventus fan sites began circulating an apparent interview with Guida in which the referee declared his life-long love for Napoli.
If the veracity of that interview was questioned in some quarters, then few could dispute that Guida had endured a difficult evening. Genoa had every right to feel aggrieved over a missed handball in the box by Mirko Vucinic early in the first half, while Juve saw two strong second-half penalty appeals turned down prior to the Granqvist incident. Guida and Romeo missed a clear tug on Vucinic's shirt by Luca Antonelli, as well as Eros Pisano mauling Paul Pogba during a corner.
Indeed, Granqvist's handball might have been the least clear-cut of the bunch. On Sunday the president of the Italian Referees' Association, Marcello Nicchi, stated that even after repeated viewings his team were still uncertain on whether it should be a penalty, and had contacted both Fifa and Uefa for second and third opinions. Nobody was questioning the fact that Stephan Lichtsteiner's cross struck Granqvist on an outstretched arm, but the ball got there via the defender's own boot.
As was discussed below the line of this blog a fortnight ago Fifa's Laws of the Game state that a handball must be deliberate to be deemed an offence. In practice, of course, officials cannot read minds, which is why refereeing associations issue directives on how to interpret different situations. In Italy's case, a specific ruling was handed down just this summer, stating that deflections on to hands should not be punished.
There is room to debate what constitutes a deflection, of course, and plainly in this instance there was disagreement between Guida and Romeo. The latter had signalled for a penalty, only to be overruled by the referee.
What can be said with certainty is that this was another lacklustre performance from Juventus, continuing their slow start to 2013. Lazio's defeat by Chievo earlier in the day meant that they still extended their lead over at least one of their title rivals, but Napoli's victory in Parma on Sunday allowed the Partenopei to close to within three points of the leaders.
Juve's lack of a stand-out goalscorer remains a concern. Conte's side did not register a single shot on target in the first-half and when they finally did take the lead it was a Genoa player who got the last touch – Granqvist helping Fabio Quagliarella's close-range effort across the line. The visitors' equaliser arrived via the head of Marco Borriello, a player discarded by Juventus in the summer.
Nicolas Anelka's arrival on a five-month deal represents the club's short-term response to that problem, albeit one that has met with a lukewarm response from the fans. Confirmation that Fernando Llorente will join on a free transfer in July was received with greater enthusiasm, though many had hoped that a deal could be done to capture the Spaniard even sooner.
The absence of Andrea Pirlo was also keenly felt, Pogba unable to fill the void quite so majestically as he had in the 4-0 demolition of Udinese a week previously. That said, the Frenchman did provide at least one moment of magic – lifting a glorious ball over the defence for Claudio Marchisio, only for his midfield team-mate to miscue his shot badly.
Conte, though, must also consider his own role in the club's struggles. It was his tactical flexibility which proved such a boon to Juventus last year – the manager adjusting from 4-2-4 to 4-3-3, then 3-5-2 as the season went on, as well as incorporating more subtle variations on those themes. His commitment to the latter formation this season has seemed far more rigid, and fans are beginning to ask whether greater variety might be required.
The manager will likely face sanctions this week over his behaviour at the end of the game, as will Giorgio Chiellini – who had been watching from the stands, but clambered down onto the pitch in street clothes to give Guida a piece of his mind. The Juventus president, Andrea Agnelli, defended the actions of Conte and Marotta afterwards by saying that "it is hard to expect them to behave like English lords at the end of a game."
As for Genoa, this was an important result to lift morale following yet another change of leadership. Davide Ballardini's return to a post he last held in July 2011 represented the club's seventh managerial switch in two-and-a-half years. With further daunting fixtures coming up at home against Lazio then away at Parma over the next fortnight, similar grit may be required. But hopefully not quite as much controversy.
• The star of the weekend was undoubtedly Mauro Icardi, the scorer of four goals in Sampdoria's 6-0 rout of Pescara. Not since 1961 had a Samp player scored that many in a Serie A game. Icardi, a product of the Barcelona academy who announced his arrival in Italy with a brace in his team's 2-1 win at Juventus earlier this month, dedicated his goals to Riccardo Garrone – the team's much-loved owner, who passed away last week. The team paid their own tribute to Garrone, by donating all profits from the game to charitable causes. The fans in the Gradinata Sud prepared a banner which read: "Just thank you, president."
• Andrea Pirlo was named as the Serie A Players' Player of the Year for 2012 at the Italian Footballers' Association's glitzy awards night in Milan. Antonio Conte won Manager of the Year, while Nicola Rizzoli got Referee of the Year. The Team of the Year was as follows: Gianluigi Buffon; Christian Maggio, Federico Balzaretti, Thiago Silva, Andrea Barzagli; Antonio Nocerino, Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani, Antonio Di Natale.
• Cavani heralded his inclusion in that XI with yet another key goal for Napoli, scoring the winner away to Parma – an opponent who had previously not lost at home all season. That was his 18th league goal this season – as many as Fabio Quagliarella, Mirko Vucinic and Sebastian Giovinco have managed between them for Juve.
• Milan could count themselves among the weekend's big winners – jumping up to fifth place and closing to within six points of Lazio following their 1-0 victory over Atalanta. Better yet, that result was achieved with M'Baye Niang once again joining Stephan El Shaarawy and Giampaolo Pazzini in Massimiliano Allegri's three-man attack. The thought of Mario Balotelli joining the former two – should his oft-mooted move to Milan ever come to pass – in a precocious but potent forward line is rather enticing. (Should anyone feel inclined to learn a little more about Niang, by the way, I wrote a piece about him here last month).
• Additional note from the Milan game: a clearance that only Philippe Mexès could dream up.
• Quietly joining the race for European places are Catania, 2-1 winners over Fiorentina this weekend and rising up to seventh in the table as a consequence. Rolando Maran's side have dropped just two points in the league so far in 2013 and are on course to exceed the club-record points tally (48) achieved under Vincenzo Montella last season. More impressive still, this weekend's victory was achieved without Francesco Lodi, Gonzalo Bergessio or Sergio Almirón – three players whose performances have often been credited as the key to the club's recent successes.
• Another wild day for Roma – who led 1-0, then 2-1 but eventually had to recover from 3-2 down to draw with Bologna. A group of 20 or so fans were waiting for the team when they returned to Rome's Termini railway station, ready to heckle the players and manager as they disembarked. The further the team slips away from the top three places, the more the sense grows that Zdenek Zeman's second stint with Roma may not last the year.
Results: Atalanta 0-1 Milan, Bologna 3-3 Roma, Cagliari 1-1 Palermo, Catania 2-1 Fiorentina, Inter 2-2 Torino, Juventus 1-1 Genoa, Lazio 0-1 Chievo, Parma 1-2 Napoli, Sampdoria 6-0 Pescara, Udinese 1-0 Siena.