AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri said controversial striker Antonio Cassano still needs to improve his condition despite having set up Rodney Strasser's winner at Cagliari on Thursday.
Former Real Madrid, Roma and Sampdoria star Cassano came off the bench with a quarter-hour left and played the decisive pass five minutes from time in the Serie A leaders' 1-0 victory in Sardinia. That put Milan five points clear of second-placed Lazio, at least until the day's late game when Napoli can close the gap to three points if they beat Inter Milan at the San Siro.
But Allegri says Cassano has a lot of work to do having not played since October and frozen out of training after a bust-up with Sampdoria president Riccardo Garrone before his January move to Milan.
"Of course he's not in shape, you can see that by looking at him but that's normal," said Allegri of the 28-year-old. "He didn't train for two months and he's already a long way ahead given what he's done. He's been training alone for a week with us and the important thing is that he continues to be commited during training and most of all that he's present in the bits of games that he plays."
Even though Cassano is cup-tied for Europe having played for Sampdoria in the UEFA Champions League qualifying round, Allegri says he will get plenty of opportunities to play, although his chances of displacing either Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Robinho seem less promising.
"He can't play in the Champions League which could be a disadvantage or an advantage," added Allegri. "But we have many games to play ahead of us and we can't afford to mess up."
Milan just edged a tight game, in which Cagliari hit the woodwork through centre-back Michele Canini, thanks to 20-year-old Sierra Leone midfielder Strasser, a product of Milan's youth system who scored his first goal for the club.
"Things look good after winning a tough game like today," said Allegri. "Most of all with a goal from a young lad who's come through our youth sector, I think we have reason to be pleased. And I'm pleased with the table and for having started the year a little better than we finished the last one [with a 1-0 home defeat to Roma]."