Cassano cameo can't inspire Milan, but Inter on the march again

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For once Antonio Cassano has been speaking sense - although in his usual straight to the point manner he painted a stark picture as to where his future may lie, claiming that if he failed to take his chance at AC Milan then he deserved to be institutionalised.

Cassano will never be held in the same esteem as the divine Roberto Baggio or even Alessandro Del Piero, but at least he now has a genuine opportunity to leave some sort of positive legacy at a club with the word professionalism woven neatly into its very fabric.

Strange really, when you consider who runs the whole operation, but Silvio Berlusconi told the players at the turn of the year that Milan success was good for the government and, with his political enemies gathering at every corner, the laughing cavalier will hope his team go on an unbeaten run to the end of the season, winning the league, Champions League and Italian Cup to boot…

Away from such flights of fancy, Cassano can at least play his part on the domestic front and with each session on the training pitch his fitness is of course returning - and class as they say in Italy - is not like water, i.e. you can’t bottle it.

Witnessing the way the likes of Alessandro Nesta, Rino Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf go about staying in shape, Cassano - again employing his colourful language - claimed he was more than motivated to “get his finger out and start training like a dog as well.”

So far so good: two outings coming off the bench for a total of 35 minutes and three assists leading to goals. Yesterday evening the fifteen-or-so minute man was back in Puglia - not in his hometown of Bari, but rather the more hostile surroundings of regional rivals Lecce. 

In fact, he was given an extra five minutes in the place of the ineffectual Alexandre Pato when Milan, to all intents and purposes, were in complete control even if the score was only 1-0 - the product of another Zlatan Ibrahimovic wonder goal.

Cassano was less productive than in his previous cameos against Cagliari and Udinese, although through no fault of his own, with Nesta and Thiago Silva having their worst game of the season. To call Milan’s defending from the corner which resulted in Lecce’s late equaliser sloppy would perhaps be being a bit kind, with nobody picking up Ruben Olivera who gladly swept home from 10 yards.

Milan should have been out of sight even before Cassano entered the game, but once again the chance to open up a significant gap over the chasing pack was missed, suggesting that Massimiliano Allegri’s men are not the genuine title-winning material they had us believe in the first half of the season. 

Cassano still has plenty of time to leave is mark throughout the rest of the campaign, but imagine the glittering career he may have had if he had come under the protective wing of Javier Zanetti early on, rather than head off down his wayward road.

The Inter captain equalled Giuseppe Bergomi’s club record of 519 appearances in Serie A against Bologna on Saturday evening and ever since arriving in Milan back in 1995 the Argentine has kept his game and his life much like his hair: neat and tidy.

The tractor wheels are still churning away and one moment early in the first-half on Saturday summed the 37-year-old’s approach to the game: As Bologna’s Gaston Ramirez broke into open space down the left flank the veteran came racing back to dispossess the midfielder and not only keep the ball in play but instigate an attack that almost led to a goal at the other end.

Milan’s old enemy are on the march again and Bologna were displaced with ease. Samuel Eto’o was at his rampaging best and weighed in with two goals in the 4-0 blitz including a precise fee-kick, Diego Milito also found the back of the net again while the midfield and defence were fully in synch.

The biggest cheer of the evening, however, came when Zanetti was replaced in the closing minutes: the game was still going on behind him as he soaked up the adulation, but as always for one of Serie A’s all-time greats there was no time to look back. 

With each passing match it looks more and more likely that the defending champions will soon be back near the summit: they can close the gap on Milan to six points on Wednesday when they play the first of their two games in hand, at home to Cesena.