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The Italy international returned to the starting line-up and steered the Rossoneri to victory, but they once again made no ground in the title race as the Bianconeri march on

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By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Editor

Antonio Cassano returned to the starting XI with a fair old bang at Siena on Sunday, but AC Milan’s excellent 4-1 victory over the Robur gave them no significant boost in the Serie A title race as Juventus’ relentless run-in continued at Novara.

For Cassano, the trip to Tuscany was a further chance to prove that he has overcome the medical issues that threatened a whole lot more than just his participation in Euro 2012. Having been ruled out for the rest of the season, he has gradually worked his way back to full fitness long before the predicted date, and at the Franchi Montepaschi Arena he looked like the ‘Fantantonio’ of yesteryear.

Two minutes after tapping home the opening goal following a spill by Zeljko Brkic, he fired in an excellent angled pass for Zlatan Ibrahimovic that allowed the Swede to control and then belt home with his left foot. For a Milan side that weren’t really taking over the contest, it was a vital few moments.

MATCH FACTS | Siena 1-4 Milan

 Shots
 On Target
 Possession
 Territory
 Corners
 Bookings
SIENA
10
4
72%
54%
2
2
MILAN
9
7
28%
46%
7
2

In recent times, they have looked insipid for long spells. Points have been dropped thanks to an inability to turn possession into significant chances, and even in the victory over Genoa in midweek there were extended stints without any real work for Grifone keeper Sebastien Frey.

But on Sunday it was different. The Rossoneri had no more possession or territory than they had in any game over the past month. In fact, this may well have been their least dominant performance. The difference was that they had Cassano adding the creativity up top.

After Erjon Bogdani’s goal had threatened to give Milan a tough final few minutes, the reigning champions stepped it up again. Antonio Nocerino responded to being left on the bench by grabbing the clincher in the final minute of normal time to reach double figures in the league this season. The ex-Palermo midfielder has now scored as many goals as any Juventus player this term.

Milan, and more specifically Cassano, were not done there, though. With Siena’s defence retreating, the Bari native showed fantastic skill to twist one way and turn the other before steering a superb pass to Ibrahimovic, who slotted home his 26th goal of the campaign. Cassano’s ability to stretch defences in the fifth minute of injury time in his first start in seven months can only be a good sign for club and country.

What wasn’t such good news for Milan, though, was the scoreline from Novara as Juve’s title march turned into a canter. After struggling to put teams to bed for three quarters of the season, the Bianconeri are suddenly doing so with great regularity, and no result has been such a forgone conclusion all term as their win over their Piedmont neighbours.

MATCH FACTS | Novara 0-4 Juventus

 Shots
 On Target
 Possession
 Territory
 Corners
 Bookings
NOVARA
9
3
36%
48%
3
1
JUVENTUS
24
12
64%
52%
5
0

Their eighth successive win takes their unbeaten run this season to 35 games, and it never looked in any doubt from the moment Mirko Vucinic swept the ball home superbly from Andrea Pirlo’s 16th-minute free kick. They continued to dominate the Azzurri for long spells, with Emanuele Giaccherini having a field day out on the left, and it was the former Cesena man whose cross teed up Marco Borriello’s diving header which killed the game as any kind of contest shortly before half-time.

It could well have been seven or eight for the Bianconeri by the end, but they were more than happy to settle for 4-0, with Arturo Vidal’s strike after Vucinic had tested Alberto Fontana and then the Montenegrin’s second following in Giaccherini’s shot crowning the victory with barely an hour played.

By the time the final quarter came around, Vidal, Claudio Marchisio and Vucinic had all been rested, with even Eljero Elia given a run-out. That’s how straightforward it had become!

The remainder of the calendar surely holds no fears for Antonio Conte’s side in this mood. After bagging just 39 goals in their first 27 games, Juve have now netted 23 times in their last eight. As much as some claim that the back line which has allowed just one goal in that time has been their catalyst, it is their greater conversion of chances which has blasted Milan out of sight.

Two more wins in their final three games will see the Bianconeri secure a 28th official title. A defeat for Milan in midweek could see Juve crowned by Wednesday, but with Cassano back and in form, that seems unlikely. The Rossoneri and Il Talentino, though, can do nothing to stop Juventus swaggering towards the Scudetto. The race is very nearly run.

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