Football journalists like nothing better than a top-of-the-table showdown. Out tumble the old clichés about six-pointers and psychological advantages, smothering all logic about what it actually takes to win a league title.
Had Juventus won at Milan in Serie A on Saturday night, they would have gone two points clear of their rivals with a game in hand and obituaries for Milan's title defence would have poured forth, but the fallacy of the 'six-pointer' theory is that it naively confers immunity to all future setbacks upon the team that wins.
A (potential) five-point lead may appear significant, but it only takes one disappointing result to change things completely and although Juve are unbeaten this season, a team that has already dropped points against Bologna, Catania, Chievo, Cagliari, Siena and Parma is unlikely to canter to the title under any circumstances.
As it was, Juve were held to a 1-1 draw at San Siro that left them a point behind Milan but with a game in hand (at Bologna on March 7). Despite being without the suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic and injured pair Kevin-Prince Boateng and Clarence Seedorf, Milan largely dominated proceedings but neither side was able to deliver a knockout blow and in the absence of any definitive alterations to the title picture, there was controversy by the bucketload.
Most notably, Sulley Muntari had a 25th-minute header ruled out even though Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon's hands were a good couple of feet behind the line when he clawed the ball out of his goal. Referee Paolo Tagliavento appeared to give the goal, only to change his mind on the advice of his assistant, Roberto Romagnoli, cutting short Muntari's celebrations and providing further fuel for the interminable goal-line technology debate.
Had it been awarded, Muntari's effort would have put Milan 2-0 up, but instead the hosts were pegged back in the 83rd minute when substitute Alessandro Matri volleyed home an equaliser that preserved Juve's unbeaten record. Matri had earlier had a goal contentiously ruled out for offside (Romagnoli again), prompting a televised post-match contretemps between Juve coach Antonio Conte and former Milan favourite Zvonimir Boban about which disallowed goal had been more costly.
In recent weeks, Conte and other Juventus officials have repeatedly cried foul over the penalty decisions that have gone against their club this season and the events of Saturday evening provided what The New York Times described as further evidence that Italian football remains "dressed in Machiavellian clothing".
Incensed by the decision to rule out Muntari's goal, Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani reportedly stormed down to the tunnel at half-time and became involved in an angry exchange with Conte. There was aggravation on the pitch as well, with Arturo Vidal sent off for an ugly tackle from behind on Mark van Bommel and Philippe Mexes guilty of a sly dig to the ribs of his former Roma team-mate Marco Borriello that has seen him banned for three games. Approached by French television channel Canal+ in the mixed zone, Mexes swept past, explaining: "They've told me not to talk."
Milan have since claimed that their former player Andrea Pirlo elbowed Van Bommel on two occasions, while the full-time whistle prompted a touchline set-to in which Juve defender Giorgio Chiellini and Milan club captain Massimo Ambrosini appeared to be the principal protagonists.
In a nation where refereeing appointments are pored over with a forensic zeal unseen in any other European country, and where the wounds of the Calciopoli scandal are still to heal, it was unfortunate but perhaps inevitable that such a high-profile match would descend into recrimination and counter-recrimination.
Conte at least had the good grace to accept that Milan had been the better team and that Juve had been "lucky", but the probable destination of this year's Scudetto is no clearer. Conte's side face Internazionale, Napoli, Lazio and Roma in the run-in, but all four games are at home, while Milan's most taxing assignment — on paper — is the derby with Inter on the season's penultimate weekend. As ever in Italy, however, what happens on the pitch will only be half the story.
Opta's European team of the week (click to enlarge)