It looked like Juventus’ crown was slipping.
Never in six years had their power been under such threat, and it seemed to be getting to them.
Juventus were 1-0 up in the Derby d’Italia. They had an extra man for 73 minutes. And yet as the final whistle approached, Juventus were improbably behind. In the second half, the Old Lady did what you’d never expect her to: She seemed to choke.
Mauro Icardi did what he does when he sees Juventus: He scored, taking Inter level with his eighth goal in 11 games against the Bianconeri.
All of a sudden, San Siro was jumping. And the ground’s iconic red girders almost flew off when Andrea Barzagli’s clearance ended up in his own net 12 minutes later.
The Curva Nord went wild. Inter’s ultras had already had a lot of fun with their pre-match choreography, depicting Juventus as Italian football’s Pinocchio.
But this was something else.
Beating Juventus is one thing. Doing it from behind with a man down is another. Helping Napoli knock them off their perch after six long years would represent the ultimate trifecta.
It was the sort of game that makes you understand why some Juventus managers have needed a hair transplant.
This Derby d’Italia should have been easy following Matias Vecino’s red card, but Juventus made life complicated for themselves. For the second week in a row, they were too negative, backing themselves to defend a lead despite having kept just the one clean sheet in eight games.
But every time a set piece comes in, Juventus fans hold their breaths. For Kalidou Koulibaly last week, see Icardi this week.
Bizarrely, Juventus seemed like the team down to 10 men. In truth, they were lucky not to be. Booked for dissent in the first half, Miralem Pjanic deserved to be sent for an early bath after fouling Rafinha.
The lack of consistency from referee Daniele Orsato enraged Inter fans, who had already started chants of “Ladri” — “Thieves” — after Vecino’s dismissal.
In the end, the effect of playing so long in numerical inferiority took its toll on the Nerazzurri. They were out of gas.
Inter stopped running and started walking. And the decision to take off Icardi for Davide Santon came back to haunt Inter.
Still, Juventus looked all over the place. Douglas Costa wasted a good crossing opportunity, attempting a trivela.
At that point, Sky Italia’s sideline reporter, Giovanni Guardala, heard someone on Juventus’ bench declare: “It’s over.” The sense that we were witnessing the end of an era begin to take hold.
On the pitch, though, the team hadn’t given up.
With three minutes to go, Juan Cuadrado levelled the score from the acutest of angles. The Colombian has a reputation for netting huge goals and lived up to it once again.
What happened next summed up Juve while also being quintessentially Inter.
Paulo Dybala connected with Gonzalo Higuain, just like he did in Naples in December, and “Pipita” snatched Juventus a win from the jaws of defeat.
Higuain had gone around the keeper earlier in the game and missed, hinting that it might not be Juventus’ night. But the Argentine once again stepped up on the big occasion in Serie A.
“We fought right until the end,” he said.
It was his first goal in 716 minutes, ending the longest drought of his career in Italy. When it was put to Higuain after the game that one goal can sometimes feel like three or four, he couldn’t help but agree.
How it went down in Napoli’s team hotel in Florence we won’t know until tomorrow.
All of a sudden, the pressure is back on the Partenopei again, and it remains to be seen if Higuain’s late winner has the same impact as Dybala’s against Lazio in March.
Napoli lost to Roma later that evening, and it’s hard to imagine Maurizio Sarri and his players sleeping well Saturday night. They’ll have a lot of time to think about it.
Not for the first time, Juventus found a way. Allegri said he was going to have fun this week, projecting the image of a manager who revels under pressure. “Monotony is awful,” he said.
The sense of jeopardy is exciting. Juventus are being challenged, which is exactly why Allegri might choose not to seek a new challenge in the summer.
It’s your move, Napoli.
James covers the Italian Serie A and European football for ESPN FC Follow him on Twitter @JamesHorncastle.