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Juve’s off-field battles heat up as rivals Fiorentina come to town

Juventus host Fiorentina in one of Italian football’s most enduring and fiery rivalries on Sunday but once again the focus is on the off-field matters looming over their troubled campaign.

Juve are back in the top half of the Serie A table after Tuesday’s 3-0 cruise past Salernitana, boosted by star striker Dusan Vlahovic putting his injury problems behind him with a nicely taken brace, his first goals for the Turin giants since mid-October.

But their season has been severely compromised by the 15-point penalty inflicted last month for what the Italian Football Federation ruled was illicit transfer activity designed to artificially boost their accounts, with the ‘Old Lady’ 13 points away from the Champions League positions.

Juve are appealing the judgement at Italy’s highest sporting court — the Olympic Committee (CONI) — while also awaiting a preliminary hearing next month which will decide whether the club and its former leadership will face a separate criminal trial for accounting offences.

Both probes are in supporters’ crosshairs after a video from 2019 was released on Monday in which one of the three Turin prosecutors heading the criminal investigation, Ciro Santoriello, said he was a Napoli fan and “hated Juventus”.

Also unearthed was a 2021 social media post from a member of CONI’s court — who will likely not be ruling on Juve’s appeal against their points deduction — criticising the club and former chairman Andrea Agnelli after the aborted launch of the European Super League.

Before Tuesday’s Salernitana stroll Juve’s new chief football officer Francesco Calvo demanded “respect” for the club but did not call for the head of Santoriello, a respected financial crimes expert in Turin’s anti-mafia investigative unit.

“Comments removed from their proper context can take on a different meaning to what they had in the correct context,” Calvo told DAZN.

“This is also true for Juventus and all the people involved in the investigation.”

Rather than supporting Santoriello, Calvo’s message was that the extensive wiretap evidence from the criminal investigation which was leaked all over the Italian media is partial and does not tell the whole story.

Napoli host Cremonese on Sunday with a chance to both gain revenge for their Italian Cup exit at the hands of Serie A’s bottom team and increase their 13-point league lead on Inter Milan.

Inter however are on the up after last weekend’s Milan derby triumph and are heavy favourites at struggling Sampdoria, another club with huge off-field issues.

Samp have until February 16 to make 11 million euros of salary payments due for the last three months of 2022, or risk being docked two points.

That would be a hammer blow to a club already in deep financial trouble, whose majority shareholder Massimo Ferrero was forced to step down as chairman in 2021 after he was charged with fraudulent bankruptcy and spent time in prison.

Dejan Stankovic’s Samp side are second from bottom and eight points from safety, and need a bank loan to come through so that their survival bid is not further compromised.

Crumbling champions AC Milan start the action against Torino on Friday night, 18 points behind Napoli and outside the Champions League places.

Stefano Pioli’s side have lost their last three in the league and desperately need a kick-start with the home leg of their last-16 Champions League tie with Tottenham coming on Tuesday.

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