Before last Friday night’s clash with then league leaders Napoli, Massimiliano Allegri had insisted that despite his side being four points off the pace, they were not in trouble.
Juventus’ 1-0 win at the Sao Paolo, a ground where they have only won one of their previous 13 fixtures, served to nicely underline the point. Gonzalo Higuain’s 12th minute strike inflicted a first defeat of the season on their flying hosts, indeed their first home defeat since February.
It may not prove to be a decisive blow – but a marker had very definitely been laid down.
Victory was a pointed riposte to those hoping the Old Lady’s joints were finally creaking.
Without question, Juventus haven’t been at their very best this season.
They’ve lost twice in the league, suffering an almost unheard of home defeat to Lazio back in October and a surprise reverse against Sampdoria at the start of November.
And they’ve not convinced in the Champions League either.
They were resoundingly beaten by Barcelona on Match Day 1 and have yet to earn qualification to the knock out stages, although a point at Olympiakos this week will put that to rights.
Defensively, they’ve looked less than assured at times. Leonardo Bonucci’s move to AC Milan has surely played a part here.
Juve have conceded 14 goals so far this season, 3 more than this time last term and 4 more than each of their top 4 rivals.
The fact that the great Italian international has struggled at the San Siro has been some consolation to Bianconeri fans and has prompted the amusing suggestion that the big money transfer has only served to make both defences weaker!
But they miss his defensive class and his ability to make the play from deep all the same.
Allegri has been working to regain Juve’s renowned solidity, experimenting with the likes of Daniel Rugani and Mehdi Benatia as partners for Giorgio Chiellini.
The performances of the latter two under serious pressure on Friday night will have given the manager much satisfaction.
The more so given he was missing his first choice full backs Alex Sandro and Stephan Lichsteiner.
New boy Mattia De Sciglio, an €11 million signing from AC Milan, and Kwadwo Asamoah deputised ably, giving the Juve back four a more than solid look.
Allegri will surely solve the puzzle and clearly isn’t lacking for options.
The extent of Juventus’s struggles has been relative, of course.
They may have looked a little out of sorts this season, but that hasn’t stopped them racking up a mightily impressive 41 league goals in their 15 games, comfortably outscoring Maurizio Sarri’s men, not to mention Inter Milan and Roma.
Allegri has been at pains to stress that his side has actually been doing pretty well all told – but that a serious title race could be in the offing because of how much his side’s rivals have improved this time round.
There’s no question that Napoli and Inter have kicked on.
After 15 games last season, the Partenopei had amassed 28 points, scored 27 times and conceded 15.
This term, they have 10 points more, they’ve hit the back of the net on 35 occasions and have conceded just 10.
Inter, after 15 games, had the same defensive record as the league leaders and had managed 33 goals and 36 points.
This time last season, they had conceded 8 more goals, scored 11 less and had only 21 points in the bag.
In any other season, Juve would probably be sitting comfortably on top of the pile.
But while their top four rivals are putting it up to them, the fact that none of them have managed to put clear water between themselves and the champions despite their impressive starts must be a worry.
The Bianconeri have a tendency to grow into a season and they boast a stronger squad than any of the pretenders to their throne.
And as Friday night’s clinical display showed, they clearly still possess the hard-nosed, professional know-how that wins leagues and that none of their opponents have been able to match over the last six seasons.