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 can reclaim top spot outright if they avoid defeat at home to Sampdoria on Sunday.
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 football 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 moaned. "There's a certain behaviour that is apparent during our matches. I'm disgusted by what I saw. These things need explaining."
Marchionni should have sent Juventus into the break 2-0 ahead when he had a chance late on in the half but he dithered, shot straight at Frey and then hit the keeper again when the rebound fell to him. In the last minute of the half Fiorentina came close again but Alessandro Gamberini and Per Kroldrup got in each other's way diving for the ball at the back post.
On the hour mark, Juventus stretched Fiorentina down the right and Marchionni pulled the ball back for Zdenek Grygera to shoot but Frey made a spectacular one-handed save. Juventus were enjoying success down their right and Marchionni teed up Del Piero on 69 minutes but the veteran forward skied his effort.
The hosts were almost made to pay two minutes later but Buffon made a miraculous reaction save with his leg from a close-range Gilardino flick. 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.