There was no open-top bus parade in Turin, no firework display and no fans flooding the squares in the city centre. There were celebrations, for sure, but nothing so much greater than you might expect on any other Saturday night. You might even have been excused for not realising that Juventus had just been crowned champions at all. Even if you were talking to some of their players.
"The winter title doesn't mean anything," insisted Stephan Lichtsteiner at the end of his side's 2-0 win over Atalanta, and to most extents and purposes he was correct. The description of the team who sit top of Serie A at the season's midway point as 'winter champions' is really just a saying – an informal recognition of a successful start.
Yet even so, it should not be entirely dismissed. With the Italian fixture list designed in such a way that every team faces each other once, before the return matches are played out in the same order, the winter champion cannot earn their spot by dint of a soft schedule. As a predictor of the eventual Scudetto winner, it has been accurate. As Brian Fantana might put it: 68% of the time, it works every time.
Even leaving such thoughts aside, however, this for Juventus represents a significant step. After last season's seventh-place finish, the Bianconeri had begun this season with the primary goal of securing a place among the top three – sufficient to secure a return to Champions League football. That alone looked a significant challenge, so to reach the halfway point unbeaten (their longest-ever such run to start a Serie A season), a point clear in first place and 10 better off than they were at the corresponding point in 2010-11 means they are already surpassing many supporters' highest expectations.
Antonio Conte, the former captain appointed as manager in the summer, has stubbornly refused to discuss his team as candidates for the title, and when pressed in the immediate aftermath of Saturday's win to state "without ifs or buts" whether his team were now in the running he replied drily: "if and but". A day later he was only slightly more forthcoming, telling the TV show Domenica Sportiva "Nobody is hiding here. But I know that nobody can just get up in the morning and decide: 'I win'."
Charlie Sheen would disagree, of course, but no Juve fan is about to accuse Conte of lacking ambition. For all that certain players have excelled at different moments, this season's success to date is all about the manager. As talented as his squad is, and as much as it has been elevated by the smart transfer dealings of the sporting director Beppe Marotta – Lichtsteiner, Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal each making a significant impact since joining in the summer – this year's triumphs have been borne more out of hard work and a solid team ethic than individual brilliance.
The opening goal on Saturday was a case in point. While journalists were lavish in their praise for the vision and precision of Pirlo after he floated a delicious 30-yard ball across the pitch for Lichtsteiner to head home at the far post, the reality was that this goal may have had less to do with instinct than old-fashioned hard work. "Pirlo is a great player and the ball was perfect," said Lichtsteiner. "But it's not like these things happen by chance. Heaven knows how many times we try that in training."
As Turin-based La Stampa would note, even Thomas Edison knew that genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration. The former came to Conte early in the season, when he abandoned his preferred 4-2-4 in favour of a 4-3-3 (or variations thereon) which made the most of his players' talents. The latter has been a constant of Juve's season, even if at times they have occasionally yearned for that splash of fantasia that might have turned one or two of their eight draws into victories.
There was a hint of that frustration on Saturday as both Andrea Barzagli and Vidal hit the woodwork before the opener finally arrived, and it was not until the substitute Emanuele Giaccherini slotted home a winner with eight minutes remaining that they could finally rest easy. His goal was all the more encouraging for the fact it had come from a wonderful through-ball from the 21-year-old youth team product Luca Marrone. "I still find it hard to believe that Luca has reached this point," said his father, Vincenzo, afterwards. "Football has always just been a game."
At this level, of course, it is also a business, and the six-point penalty handed down to Atalanta in pre-season serves as a painful reminder that in Italy it is one which has recently been corrupted. With various investigations ongoing, the fear persists that we have not yet scratched the surface, with allegations of further fixes involving Bari – when they were playing in the top-flight – emerging over the weekend.
Whatever else emerges, the existing penalty certainly continues to hang heavy on Stefano Colantuono's side, who would otherwise be feeling a lot brighter about their prospects of top-flight survival. Although they remain five points clear of the relegation zone, this was a third consecutive 2-0 defeat to start 2012. It was also their second such home defeat in the new year, where they had previously been unbeaten at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri D'Italia. Those losses have, admittedly, come at the hands of Juve, Milan (home) and Lazio (away), but a reaction at Cesena next Sunday is needed.
"That we would struggle in these three games was known since August, when the fixture list came out," insisted Colantuono. "Now our season starts again against Cesena." For Juve the next stop is a home game against third-placed Udinese. Victory there would represent a significant first step towards converting their winter title into a real one.
• It's not all rosy in Juve's garden, however – Eljero Elia caused a stir when he reacted to reports that he was being left out of the squad to face Atalanta due to injury by tweeting: "I am not KO. I am in form." Conte's response was brief and to the point: "I will decide who is in form".
• Maurizio Zamparini has insisted that Bortolo Mutti's job was not on the line when Palermo faced Genoa on Sunday, but given that the Sicilian side's owner also announced that "I would have thrown myself into the sea" had they lost, it's probably for the best that they didn't. Zamparini was absent as his team instead set about winning one of the more entertaining games of the season, falling behind to a Rodrigo Palacio goal but recovering to win 5-3.
• After beating Novara, incidentally, Milan now have the precise same number of wins (12), draws (four) and losses (three) and even the same number of goals conceded (17) as at the corresponding point last season. The only difference this time around is that they've scored more goals – with 40 this term compared with 34 last.
• Francesco Totti achieved another career milestone on Saturday, registering his 210th and 211th goals in Serie A to first equal and then surpass the former Milan forward Gunnar Nordahl as the highest-ever goalscorer for any single club in the Italian top flight. As a team Roma were rampant, crushing Cesena 5-1. They look more and more like becoming the team Luis Enrique had envisioned when he took over, but the result should still be taken with a pinch of salt: Cesena remain very poor indeed.
• Only one of Serie A's top six – Lazio – failed to win at the weekend – which was actually the bare minimum since they were facing Inter. Edy Reja's men took the lead through Tommaso Rocchi and were the better side for much of the game but were caught out by two sucker punches from Diego Milito and Giampaolo Pazzini. "The result is the only thing I would want to keep from this match," said Claudio Ranieri afterwards, though that was perhaps an overly pessimistic take. If nothing else the continued return to form of Milito and Pazzini must have pleased the manager – the latter sealing the win with an extremely smart lob (even if he had perhaps been offside in the buildup). Wesley Sneijder, too, played well after replacing Ricky Alvarez at half-time. The Tinkerman may now at last have to start finding a way to get Sneijder back into the starting lineup. After a seventh win in a row, it's a nice dilemma to have.
Results: Atalanta 0-2 Juventus, Bologna 0-0 Parma, Cagliari 0-0 Fiorentina, Inter 2-1 Lazio, Lecce 2-2 Chievo, Novara 0-3 Milan, Palermo 5-3 Genoa, Roma 5-1 Cesena, Siena 1-1 Napoli, Udinese 2-1.