Serie A's old man Javier Zanetti returned for Inter but it was the Old Lady of Turin's return to form that stole the headlines
The weekend began with a goodbye. On Saturday night Massimo Moratti attended his final game as owner of Inter, a 2-0 win over Livorno at San Siro, bringing down the curtain on 18 colourful years in charge. He expects to complete his sale of a majority stake in the club to Erick Thohir on Friday, although the Indonesian businessman has asked him to stay on as president.
Moratti is yet to give a firm answer to that request, suggesting only that he might find it difficult to carry on whilst knowing that the club is no longer truly his. Either way, fans in the Curva Nord at San Siro gave him a fitting farewell this weekend, hanging four 100m-long banners in his honour.
"The greatest joys, the most embarrassing lows, 18 years of ownership summed up in those 12 questions," they read – referencing a similar display at the end of last season, in which fans had issued a dozen demands regarding the club's future.
"We have often attacked you, even if we have never abandoned you. Despite it all, we have one thing in common: an undeniable love for Inter. Being too much of a fan can be harmful at times. Now we wait with curiosity, but with gratitude to our president, who deserves it. In the end we wished him well."
Even as they bid farewell to their owner, however, those same fans were also preparing to welcome back their captain. Many had assumed that Javier Zanetti's career was over when he tore an achilles tendon during a defeat to Palermo in April, but the player himself had always vowed to return. He made good on those promises on Saturday, entering the game as an 87th minute substitute.
The score was still 1-0 at the time, and some fans might have felt nervous about the introduction of a 40-year-old midfielder, coming off a six-month injury absence, at such a critical juncture. Zanetti soon calmed their nerves. He won a tackle, made sensible passes, chivvied his team-mates along and even had a hand in the creation of Inter's second goal. To many people watching, it was as though he had never been away.
One night later, in Turin, Juventus supporters experienced a similar sensation. The Bianconeri had no captain to welcome back, nor indeed any other player returning from a lengthy injury lay-off. Instead, after a period of early-season underperformance, those fans witnessed their entire team re-emerge as a dominant force in Serie A.
Through the first two months of the season, Juventus had not looked their usual selves. Despite winning more often than not, the Old Lady lacked her usual swagger, the aura of invulnerability that had characterised the past two seasons under Antonio Conte. Juve had previously conceded just 44 league goals in two seasons, – fewer, by some distance, than anyone else in the division – but now seemed to fall behind in every game that they played.
After being held to 1-1 draws by Inter and Copenhagen, Juventus had to claw their way back from early deficits just to scrape wins over Verona and Chievo. Conte's team finally kept a clean sheet as they beat Torino in the Derby della Mole, but then gave up two cheap goals in a draw at home to Galatasaray. Their defensive frailties were exposed once again in a 3-2 win over Milan, and then even more brutally during a 4-2 defeat to Fiorentina.
Beaten by Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu three days later, Juve's very foundations seemed to be trembling. Or at least, that was how certain Italian media outlets chose to portray things. Comments made by Conte and the team's president, Andrea Agnelli, were pitted against each other to suggest a rift. In a press conference before his team's game against Genoa, the manager railed against what he perceived as a "clear attempt [by the press] to destabilise Juve".
In reality, of course, the whole story was overblown. Juventus might not have been playing at their very best, but they had still collected 19 points from eight games. Only Roma – still perfect at that stage – had more.
But perhaps Conte was simply taking advantage of the situation, using these perceived attacks on his team to engineer a siege mentality that would help to jolt them out of any complacency. Juve beat Genoa 2-0 and went on to defeat Catania (4-0) and Parma (1-0) over the following six days. Having previously kept two clean sheets all season, they had now managed three in less than a week.
Greater challenges awaited. Juventus drew 2-2 at home to Madrid in the return Champions League meeting. The result on its own might not have been ideal, but Copenhagen's win over Galatasaray that same evening ensured that Juve, despite falling to the bottom of Group B, would stay in control of their own destiny.
That brought us to this weekend, and a home game against Napoli. Here was the team that Conte himself claimed to fear the most – the one that he had cited in preseason as Juventus's most likely challengers for the Serie A title. "Last year they finished second, and in the summer they spent €90m on new players," he noted in a pre-game press conference. "Cavani was sold, but three great players arrived in his place – [Gonzalo] Higuaín, [José] Callejón and [Raúl] Albiol."
Juventus, by contrast, had done their best summer shopping on the cheap. Carlos Tévez, signed for just €9m plus bonuses, had been the most consistently effective player of his team's entire campaign so far, scoring six goals in 11 games, as well as providing one assist.
On Sunday, it was an even less expensive signing who opened the scoring. Fernando Llorente, acquired on a free transfer from Athletic Bilbao, popped up in the second minute to prod the ball home after a Tévez flick.
The goal should not have stood. Llorente was in an offside position when the ball was played through, even if "only by 21 centimetres" in Conte's curiously precise estimation. Certainly it would have been harsh to criticise the officials for getting such a tight call wrong, and Napoli's manager, Rafael Benítez, showed little inclination to do so after the game.
Matters would only get worse for the visitors. Goalkeeper Pepe Reina made a string of saves, showing sensational reflexes at one point to block a Leonardo Bonucci header from close range, but he could do nothing to keep out a furious knuckleball of a free-kick from Andrea Pirlo in the 74th minute, which dipped underneath the crossbar at a reported 95kph.
Juve's third was even better – a legitimate goal of the year contender from Paul Pogba, who teed himself up before sending a swerving outside-of-the-boot volley off the right-hand post and into the net. This one travelled at 101kph.
The game finished 3-0 to Juventus, and that scoreline was not misleading. The Bianconeri had thoroughly dominated their rivals, with only Lorenzo Insigne generating any kind of threat to the home team's goal. He was unlucky not to get his name on the scoresheet, denied on more than one occasion by the acrobatics of an in-form Gigi Buffon.
But this was a victory for Juve's directors as well as the players. The team's three goalscorers had been signed over the past three summers at a combined fee of roughly £800,000. That is how much the club is reported to have paid Manchester United in compensation for Pogba. Both Pirlo and Llorente were free.
If Pogba and Pirlo have long since established their value to this team, then Llorente too is beginning to show his worth. The striker endured a difficult introduction to life in Turin, struggling to adapt to Conte's schemes and finding himself squeezed out of the starting line-up before the season had even begun.
But the voices that had him seeking a quick route out of the club were premature. Llorente has worked hard to integrate himself, and Conte has adjusted his schemes to accommodate the striker's attributes. With the Spaniard in the team, Juventus have sought to move the ball out to the wings more consistently, putting in crosses that take advantage of his height and poacher's instincts.
That method is beginning to pay off. Llorente has scored three goals in his last six games – two of them against Madrid and one against Napoli. His knack for putting himself in the right place at the right time can be an asset to a team whose greatest failing last season was an occasional lack of ruthlessness in tight games.
"It's a nice moment, I am getting closer to achieving my maximum potential," said Llorente on Sunday. "It's all thanks to the great work done up to this point with the manager. I am happy, because now I can really help the team."
In fact, he has already done so. Victory on Sunday moved Juventus to within a point of first-placed Roma, as well as three clear of Napoli in third. The season is long, and there will be plenty more twists and turns yet in the title race. For now, we can just say goodbye to the notion that this Juve team has lost its way.
• One of the biggest stories in Italian football this weekend took place not in Serie A, but instead in the Lega Pro Prima Divisione – the third tier of Italian football. Salernitana were scheduled to host their local rivals Nocerina on Sunday, but the latter club's fans were banned from attending by the local authorities for reasons of public order. The enmity between the two sets of fans runs deep, and it was feared that the game would otherwise become too hard to police.
Approximately 200 Nocerina Ultras, however, responded to this decision by showing up at their team's training base and threatening to kill their own players if they went ahead with the match. The group showed up again at the team's hotel on the morning of the game, and then proceeded to head down to the stadium anyway, even though they knew they would not be allowed inside. The game was delayed by almost 40 minutes, with Nocerina's players reluctant to go ahead due to their fear of repercussions.
Nevertheless, it eventually did get underway with a reported 9,000 Salernitana fans in attendance. The spectacle did not last long, however. In the second minute, Nocerina used up all three of their substitutions. Over the next 20 minutes, five of the team's players left the game with supposed injuries. At that point the referee had no choice but to abandon the game. The condemnation has been universal, but it is a sad state of affairs indeed when the threat of violence can be deployed so effectively by such a relatively small group.
• Juventus were able to move to within a point of Roma only because the league leaders had failed to beat newly-promoted Sassuolo earlier in the day. The Giallorossi led 1-0 in the fourth and final minute of injury time, but were punished for failing to properly clear one final attack, as Domenico Berardi fired through a crowd to snatch a point. The striker, co-owned by Juventus, now has six goals in eight appearances this season.
• This has been another week thick with speculation about possible behind-the-scenes manoeuvring at Milan. Reports that Barbara Berlusconi wants Adriano Galliani out persist, with varying accounts about how quickly she would like that to happen. And in the meantime, everyone is offering their public support to the manager, Massimiliano Allegri, even though his team drew 0-0 against last-placed Chievo. Milan have now failed to score in both of their last two league games.
• Mandatory Giuseppe Rossi update: the Fiorentina forward now has 11 goals in 12 games so far in this league season, after slotting home a penalty in a 2-1 win over Sampdoria. "I'm not surprised at myself," said Rossi afterwards. "I've been working for this."
• That's three wins in a row now for Genoa, who are up to seventh after beating Verona 2-0. Gian Piero Gasperini might be single-handedly disproving the theory that managers should never go back.
Results: Atalanta 2-1 Bologna, Cagliari 2-1 Torino, Catania 1-0 Udinese, Chievo 0-0 Milan, Fiorentina 2-1 Sampdoria, Genoa 2-0 Verona, Inter 2-0 Livorno, Juventus 3-0 Napoli, Parma 1-1 Lazio, Roma 1-1 Sassuolo.