Maurizio Sarri's Juve faced down Antonio Conte's imposing Inter before a hero at once familiar, unlikely and perfectly cast stole the show.
The serial winner looking to topple the dynasty he established versus the idealist who must show he can string together results as he does cigarettes. No two men could ever be bigger than Inter versus Juventus, but Antonio Conte, Maurizio Sarri and their sharply contrasting ideologies loomed large over the latest instalment of this historic clash.
Inter's 100 per cent start in Serie A and Juve's comparatively tentative first steps under Sarri – alongside the respective esteem in which each coach was held while at Chelsea – meant the script felt somewhat set as the teams emerged at an expectant San Siro.
Juventus' flying start suggested otherwise, as they followed Sarri's way line by line and to the syllable.
Inter answered in kind – Diego Godin splattering his old Madrid derby foe Cristiano Ronaldo on the turf in a case of Sarrismo meeting machismo – but insufficiently, as Miralem Pjanic's immaculate pass carved enough space for Paulo Dybala to lash a shot through Samir Handanovic's hands.
Ronaldo was alternately playing to the gallery and the gameplan, and the deft footwork that ended with him planting an effort against the crossbar cut an uncomfortable contrast with the hosts' most convincing early foray, when Romelu Lukaku ploughed towards Leonardo Bonucci in a straight line and was dispossessed.
Wojciech Szczesny passing a ball out for a throw-in near his own byline in the 13th minute showed a Bianconeri still coming to terms with Sarri's preferred means of building play. Alex Sandro was booked for trying to delay the restart and Inter seized on momentary uncertainty to apply judicious pressure.
It was typical of a Conte team, clinically sensing their moment. His wing-backs pushed on, Matthijs de Ligt headed a Danilo D'Ambrosio delivery away under pressure, but erred the next time he was called upon by Nicolo Barella at the near post.
Lautaro Martinez made himself enough of a nuisance for De Ligt to handball. Up stepped the Argentina striker to make it 1-1. By the time he got the better of Bonucci to test Szczesny in the 28th minute, Inter were in the ascendancy.
Juve needed to settle back into their work, with some lovely touches from Pjanic, Sami Khedira and Ronaldo played out before an uncompromising and unmoving back five.
Makeshift full-back Juan Cuadrado started their next attack with an audacious pass around Martinez near his own goal-line. Conte's men stood off and Sarri's side were rewarded for trusting their method.
The Bianconeri were back on the front foot and another delicious Pjanic pass met a Dybala lay-off. Ronaldo finished and tore off inimitably, only for VAR to fractionally and cruelly rule against his strike partner.
A touchline skirmish at the interval – "brawl" would be overstating the case – seemed to be instigated by Inter, although De Ligt's crunching challenge on Martinez early in the second half showed Juve were not here to be pushed around while they looked pretty.
Following Pjanic's prompting it was Khedria's turn, in a midfield alliance that sometimes purred like the Jorginho and Allan pairing under Sarri at Napoli, to unpick Inter. Dybala was onside this time, but Handanovic was out sharply.
For all that, the visitors had not managed to shake the Nerazzurri and a live Conte team is a dangerous one. Lukaku was enduring one of his clumsier outings but drove at De Ligt to force an inch-perfect challenge in the area before tumbling under Bonucci's attentions and appealing in vain for a penalty.
De Ligt's mixed showing continued when he turned his back on a drive from substitute Matias Vecino, deflecting it against the post with Szczesny rooted.
Inter were again rumbling their way on top, but Sarri showed there was room for pragmatism within the high-spec masterplan. On came Emre Can for Dybala to add some midfield ballast before his other two replacements – Rodrigo Bentancur and Gonzalo Higuain – combined to send Juventus back to the top of the table.
Like Sarri, Higuain was a hero in Naples and derided at Stamford Bridge. There could be no more fitting matchwinner on a night Sarri faced down the doubters and gave the most compelling demonstration yet that his widescreen vision can be a winning one.