They might not be able to progress in Europe, but they are still too strong for Serie A. Giancarlo Rinaldi reports on how Juve moved clear in another tempestuous round of matches.
It was a long weekend that seemed to increase its intensity like a rumble of thunder. It started almost imperceptibly with a low-key goalless clash between Catania and Verona but built to a cracking crescendo across Sunday and Monday. When the storm had settled it was Juventus, as always, who seemed to emerge unscathed.
There is a bit of the big fish in a small pond syndrome here as the Bianconeri can crush opponents at will on the domestic front but fail to do so in Europe. That is not such a new phenomenon for the club as it used to happen fairly regularly back in the 1970s. Antonio Conte's side is throttling the life out of Serie A again this year but they need something to click on their continental campaigns if they are to do themselves justice on a more important stage.
They took out their disappointment at Champions League elimination with a suitably ruthless dispatching of Sassuolo in a game shifted to Sunday after Juve's unwanted icy extension to their stay in Turkey. Carlos Tevez - who hasn't scored in Europe's top competition in something like 5,000 years (I may have exaggerated a little) - was the main executioner with a tremendous hat-trick. Nonetheless, it is hard not to agree with Angelo Di Livio when he says this version of the Turin giants is not - for the time being at least - comparable with the one he played for.
Regardless of that fact, they remain in total control of the Serie A scene. Events even played out in their favour in a gripping and sometimes grouchy Monday night battle at the San Siro. Closest rivals Roma were held to a draw by a Milan side which finally showed some of the spirit their fans have accused them of lacking in recent times. The return of Francesco Totti to action from the substitutes’ bench was a major tonic for the Giallorossi, but not enough to give them the three points they craved.
Twice the visitors took the lead - through Mattia Destro and a Kevin Strootman penalty - but twice they were hauled back thanks to goals from such unlikely sources as Cristian Zapata and Sulley Muntari. It was as much about guts as guile for Max Allegri’s men and they showed a stomach for the fight which has seemed missing in many past encounters. Maybe being the only Italian side in the last 16 of the Champions League has finally convinced them they are not quite as poor a side as everyone keeps telling them they are.
On Sunday night, Napoli emerged victorious from another goal feast which seems to have become standard fare in Italy this season. Walter Mazzarri and Rafa Benitez were facing their managerial past when Inter visited the San Paolo. It was the Spaniard who left smiling while the Tuscan spat his fury - as he always seems to do in defeat - at a match which he felt his team dominated but left empty handed.
There was some justification to his claims but this Neapolitan side is ruthless in taking its chances and the Nerazzurri defence is becoming more generous than Santa. The Partenopei have the kind of finishers any team would envy and only another penalty save from Samir Handanovic from Goran Pandev kept the scoreline to just 4-2. A by-the-book but match-spoiling red card for Ricky Alvarez for handball when there was just a goal between the sides all but decided the game.
That defeat for Inter allowed Fiorentina to sneak up to fourth spot with a sumptuous success over woeful Bologna. Josip Ilicic started efforts to justify his hefty transfer fee with the opener followed by beauties from Borja Valero and Giuseppe Rossi. The Derby of the Appenines was all downhill for the Viola after that.
Elsewhere, Miro Klose eased the pressure on Vlad Petkovic with a double to give Lazio victory over Livorno. Torino sneaked further up the table with an away win over Udinese and the Sinisa Mihajlovic effect continued to produce results for Samp with a vital win over Chievo in the lower reaches. Parma and Cagliari and Genoa and Atalanta shared the spoils in their matches to make another little step each towards survival.
There are now just three games left before Serie A hits its halfway point and it would be easy to jump to conclusions at both ends of the table. Catania could already be consigned to Serie B and we could start stitching another Scudetto onto Juve’s shirts. But that ignores the fact that there is still plenty of action to take place in what is proving a riotous season for goalmouth action. And, of course, the new year kicks off with the little matter of the Bianconeri going toe-to-toe with Roma in a match no Calcio connoisseur can afford to miss.