Juventus went level on points with Inter Milan at the top of Serie A for the first time this season as a Claudio Marchisio goal gave them a hard-fought 1-0 win over Fiorentina at Turin’s Olympic Stadium on Saturday.
Both Juventus and Inter Milan have 43 points, but Jose Mourinho’s defending champions could reclaim top spot outright if they managed to avoid defeat at home to Sampdoria yesterday.
For Fiorentina it was a third straight Serie A defeat, which leaves them in danger of losing touch in the race for a top four finish and Champions League soccer next season.
Juventus cach Claudio Ranieri said Fiorentina’s recent troubles had fired them up.
“We knew Fiorentina were going through a tough time and had already won here last season, so they were fired up and we knew they would give us real problems,” he said. “We struggled right to the end and Fiorentina play very good football. It’s fair to say the only thing they were missing was a goal.”
Fiorentina had an early penalty appeal on 10 minutes as Stevan Jovetic weaved his way into the box but he went down far too easily under contact from Olof Mellberg when he seemed to have created a shooting opportunity.
Juventus then went ahead on 21 minutes after a delightful pass from Alessandro Del Piero found Marchisio’s clever angled run and the midfielder dinked the ball over the onrushing Sebastien Frey.
Fiorentina were unlucky not to find themselves level.
Manuel Pasquale sent an inviting cross in from the left and the diminutive Mario Santana beat centre-back Nicola Legrottaglie in the air only to see his header crash back off the bar.
Juve failed to clear their lines and Riccardo Montolivo shot from distance, an effort that Gianluigi Buffon failed to hold, allowing Alberto Gilardino to slot home the rebound.
But the linesman wrongly flagged for offside as TV replays showed Marco Marchionni was playing Gilardino onside at the time of Montolivo’s shot. That decision left Fiorentina president Andrea Delle Valle fuming.
“I’m offended by what I saw,” he said. “There’s a certain behavior that is apparent during our matches. I’m disgusted by what I saw. These things need explaining.”
In the day’s other game, Chievo won the basement battle 1-0 at Reggina. The two sides started the day level on 13 points at the bottom, but Chievo won their second straight match to boost their survival hopes.
Vicenzo Italiano scored the winner three minutes into injury time at the end of the game but Reggina had played with 10 men since the 41st minute when Carlos Carmona was dismissed.
■ LA LIGA
Barcelona’s formidable attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry came up trumps again as the league leaders crushed Numancia 4-1 at Camp Nou on Saturday.
Barcelona’s victory opened up a 15-point cushion over Real Madrid and Sevilla at the top of the Spanish league table. Numancia had defeated Barca 1-0 on the opening day of the season — their only league defeat of the whole campaign — and revenge was sweet as Barca stretched their unbeaten run to 19 games.
Real Madrid were in action against Deportivo La Coruna yesterday, desperate to cut Barca’s lead back down to 12 points.
Messi grabbed a brace scoring the 49th minute opener and on 76 minutes to make it 14 goals for the season while Eto’o and Henry grabbed a goal apiece. Eto’o now has 19 goals in as many games while Henry has 12 underlining Barca’s potency in front of goal.