Five things we learned in Serie A on Tuesday
1. Juventus' killer instinct dulled
First of all, it has to be said Tuesday's Derby d'Italia between Juventus and Inter Milan that ended 1-1 was a great game. Rich in entertainment, it was aggressive and, much like Juventus-Roma in October, played at an intensity we're told Serie A lacks. There were world-class moments too. Recall Arturo Vidal's backheel to release him from his marker so he could set up Carlos Tevez for Juventus' goal, Paul Pogba's elastico and serpentine run, goalkeeper Samir Handanovic's saves and Mauro Icardi taking what, up until then, was Inter's one and only chance to get his team level after 64 minutes.
In the first half, Juventus played arguably their best football of the season. Their domination was total. It was up there with their opening 45 minutes against Sampdoria. But like on that occasion, the Old Lady didn't put the game beyond any doubt when she was thoroughly on top. She didn't kill it when she could. She allowed Inter back into a game that should already have been over. It's becoming a concern to Juventus captain Gianluigi Buffon and his teammates. "We go from the awareness or the presumption of being a great team to then seeming almost frightened at the first adversity," he explained. "It happened with Samp, with Torino after their equaliser, and with Napoli [in the Super Cup]. It's something we have to analyse [above all if progression is to be made in the Champions League]."
Juventus have now drawn four and lost one of their last six games in all competitions. They haven't gone back-to-back without a win at home in the league since November 2012. Though still top of Serie A and undefeated at the Juventus Stadium in two years, their lead has been closed to a single point. Questions are being asked. For instance: While the 4-3-1-2 formation has brought a step-change in Europe, should they perhaps consider going back to 3-5-2 in Serie A? Not if head coach Massimiliano Allegri's wish to sign Wesley Sneijder is fulfilled.
2. A brave new Inter under Mancini
After not being able to string three passes together in the first half, nor muster a shot on target until Icardi's equaliser, which was his fifth in four games against Juventus and the third on their turf, there was cause for encouragement for Inter in the Derby d'Italia. Head coach Roberto Mancini has yet to impose a playing style to call his own but the team already has his character. Evident in the fightback against Dnipro, when Inter went a goal behind, had a penalty awarded against them and a man sent off but still won 2-1, not to mention the manner in which they twice restored parity with Roma before succumbing to a 4-2 defeat, it's clear they have a resilience they didn't have under former boss Walter Mazzarri.
Brave (and foolish) in insisting they play out from the back and maintain a high line, Mancini is gradually effecting a change in their mentality. The attitude is very much: Yes, we can. He is prepared to risk more than Mazzarri. Consider this; he threw on Lukas Podolski for his debut and then Dani Osvaldo on Tuesday night. For a time Inter had three out-and-out strikers. Mancini is very much a who-dares-wins kind of coach and his team almost did.
Icardi had another couple of chances and should have put Osvaldo through instead of going alone, provoking an angry reaction. Inter even looked dangerous with 10 men. They now need to sustain their performances over 90 minutes. Only once have they done that under Mancini, away to Chievo in a 2-0 win. They've had a good first 45 against Udinese and a good second half against Lazio and Juventus. Improving even if they're now further adrift of third place, it would appear Inter's best bet of qualifying for the Champions League is winning the Europa League. Sign Xherdan Shaqiri from Bayern Munich and they just might have a chance.
3. Roma don't face the music, Garcia sets the tone
Upon watching Roma's 1-0 win at Udinese, the mind turned to their 3-2 defeat to Juventus in Turin last October. Rudi Garcia was sent to the stands after making the gesture of playing a violin. He was inferring that the sob stories Juventus' players were telling the referee were persuading the man in black to give them the benefit of the doubt on big decisions. Garcia has never forgotten that game. He has repeatedly brought it up. Like Fabio Capello, the last Roma coach to win the scudetto, he has sought to defend his club.
Garcia has let it be known that Roma won't roll over and just accept these decisions. Psychologically one wonders what pressure, if at all, that has exerted on referees. How much does it figure in their minds? What's apparent is Roma have also now been given the benefit of the doubt in the 2-2 draw with Sassuolo and 1-0 away wins against Genoa and Udinese. If goal-line technology was in effect in Italy, which it will be from next season, Davide Astori's headed goal at Friuli would have been ruled out like Adil Rami's was when Milan lost to Udinese at San Siro.
Despite one image suggesting otherwise, Sky Italia demonstrated through the same technology available to referees in the Premier League that the ball did not completely break the plane. The official stationed on the line didn't think it was a goal either, only for the referee, whose view was obstructed by Kostas Manolas, to award it. Roma got lucky, as they did when a penalty wasn't called for Urby Emanuelson's challenge on Panagiotis Kone. On the balance of play, however, they deserved to win. Alessandro Florenzi and the same Emanuelson could have put the result beyond any doubt at the end.
"For a month Garcia has been hammering referees and he is beginning to collect the fruits," said Udinese owner Giampaolo Pozzo. Until goal-line technology is introduced, which Garcia has advocated, incidents like this will continue to be the source of polemic and with that in mind it's worth revisiting the sensible and entirely rational statement Roma president James Pallotta made after the Juventus game. It still holds true. "Everyone should take a deep breath," he wrote. "Football is a very fast game and sometimes there are controversies and mistakes. It happens both ways."
4. New Year, same flawed Milan
After claiming he didn't have a magic wand to transform AC Milan, journalists poignantly gave Filippo Inzaghi one for Christmas in his final press briefing before the winter break. If cast in the character of Harry Potter with Serie A as the equivalent of Hogwarts, the rookie coach could have at least been said to be learning. Milan ended 2014 approximating something of a high. After beating Napoli 2-0 at San Siro, the Rossoneri then held Roma to a stalemate at the Olimpico. Tactically astute, that performance in particular was indicative of an improving team and hinted that things were beginning to come together.
By doing their transfer business early and beating rivals Inter to the signing of Alessio Cerci, the only player to get into double figures in goals and assists in Serie A last season, Milan looked to be giving themselves every chance of challenging for third. Tuesday's 2-1 defeat at home to Sassuolo, their first on the opening day of a calendar year in 17 years, was another reality check.
Milan went in front through Andrea Poli and will regret not making it 2-0 after Stephan El Shaarawy chose the wrong option on the counter. Undone by a couple of great assists from Domenico Berardi and goals from Nicola Sansone and Simone Zaza, one of which came from a familiar situation: a corner, the sixth they have conceded this season. Milan are now five points off the podium and appear dependent on the mercurial Jeremy Menez for match-winning displays. To get back in the race they need to capitalise if Napoli don't overcome Juventus like they did in the Super Cup (on penalties) before Christmas and Lazio's pace is relented in the Rome derby this weekend. However, with Gonzalo Higuain in form for one and Felipe Anderson, who has got four goals and four assists in his last four games, emerging as a star for the other, they'll be hard to catch.
5. Zola pink with embarrassment after Palermo defeat
Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for Gianfranco Zola on his debut as coach of Cagliari, the team of his heart. The 5-0 defeat suffered to Palermo at the Favorita was the worst of his career. If Massimo Cellino, the infamous "mangia-allenatori" or "coach-eater" was still at the helm and not at Leeds United, the sentimentality felt for how as a player he got the club back into the top flight and kept them there is all perhaps that would have saved him.
Limited by an injury crisis, in the face of which he jovially suggested that he might have to play, Zola saw his team go 2-0 down inside the first 10 minutes. Subsequently let down by his captain Daniele Conti, who was sent off after 26 minutes, his goalkeeper Simone Colombi then gave away a penalty a short while later. Credit must be given to Palermo, though, who are up into seventh and unbeaten in nine games, two short of a club record established 63 years ago.
Once again, Paulo Dybala and his partner in crime Franco Vazquez were in truly devastating form. They have combined for 20 of Palermo's 27 goals this season. Dybala continues to get the headlines and rightly so. He has found the net or laid on an assist in his last eight appearances. But don't disregard Vazquez, his compatriot. He started the season better and, lest we forget, scored a goal of the season contender of his own with an exquisite lob against Atalanta. The tango that these two Argentines have got Palermo dancing sure makes for a captivating spectacle.
James covers the Italian Serie A and European football for ESPN FC Follow him on Twitter @JamesHorncastle.