Newcastle’s Defiant Return to Champions League at San Siro

AC Milan player taking a shot on goal during the match.

Amidst the rhythmic roars and echoing anthems of San Siro, Newcastle United showcased an unwavering spirit, signaling a comeback to the Champions League that many had awaited. While their last appearance on this grand stage was over two decades ago, the Magpies’ performance on the night demonstrated that they belonged, even if the footballing landscape has dramatically evolved during their hiatus.

The storied San Siro, often a graveyard for visiting teams, was ready to witness AC Milan’s dominant play. Yet, Newcastle, under the strategic helm of Eddie Howe, were determined not to be mere spectators. Their disciplined defense and moments of brilliance disrupted Milan’s rhythm, turning the game into a tactical chess match that kept fans on the edge of their seats.

The Setting

In their first Champions League game for over 20 years, Newcastle faced the challenge of keeping a buoyant AC Milan at bay. Qualifying for the group stages after such a long hiatus, the Magpies found themselves in Group F. They shared this group with:

  • Paris Saint-Germain
  • Borussia Dortmund
  • AC Milan, the previous year’s semi-finalists.

Collecting points away from St James’ Park was pivotal for Newcastle, and even more so when it’s against a team of Milan’s caliber.

Milan, with an expected goal count of 2.06, was unable to convert any of its opportunities into a goal. Players like Rafael Leao, Tommaso Pobega, and Olivier Giroud missed crucial chances which could have changed the game’s dynamics. On the other hand, Newcastle, possibly feeling the weight of the occasion, struggled to threaten Milan’s defense for the majority of the match. Their only shot on target came during the dying moments of the game.

How Newcastle Held Their Ground

The atmosphere at San Siro was electric. Newcastle’s Jacob Murphy, starting as a surprise inclusion by manager Eddie Howe, couldn’t hide his excitement as the Champions League anthem played. This, however, did not translate into an early advantage for the Magpies.

In the first half:

  • Milan’s Pobega almost capitalized on a mistake by Newcastle’s Dan Burn.
  • Goalkeeper Nick Pope’s heroics were on display as he thwarted attempts from Samuel Chukwueze and Olivier Giroud.
  • Theo Hernandez had a promising header saved by Pope.

Milan continued to mount pressure with Leao, creating the best chance for his side. After an impressive run, he found himself in a prime position but stumbled, missing an opportunity. Following this, Pobega’s rebound attempt was cleared off the line by Murphy, emphasizing Newcastle’s determination to keep Milan at bay.

Despite their commendable defense, Newcastle’s intensity, which had driven their Premier League campaign, was missing. Leao’s header in the latter stages of the match could have sealed it for Milan, but the night wasn’t meant for goals.

Newcastle did mount a late charge, with Sean Longstaff’s attempt tipped over by Milan’s substitute goalkeeper Marco Sportiello. However, the night ended without a winner.

Learning Curve for Newcastle

The euphoria surrounding Newcastle’s Champions League return had overshadowed their recent performances. While their placement in such a challenging group is commendable, the journey ahead demands more.

Eddie Howe’s strategy came into play, with eight players making their Champions League debut. It’s essential to note that their opponents, AC Milan, were semi-finalists just a few months back. For Newcastle to progress further, there’s a need for adaptation and a faster learning curve.

“The hype around Newcastle’s Champions League return had been building ever since they secured their top-four place in the spring, which is perhaps why this performance felt so underwhelming.” – Sports Analyst

Opta Facts

  • Newcastle’s goalkeeper, Nick Pope, marked his Champions League debut with eight saves. A feat achieved last by Alisson for Roma against Atletico Madrid in September 2017.
  • Eddie Howe’s first managerial game in the Champions League put him among a select group of English managers. However, the likes of Craig Shakespeare and Michael Carrick were among the few to win their inaugural matches.
  • AC Milan’s 25 shots were their highest in a Champions League game without scoring since their clash against PSV in October 2005.
  • A record eight players from Newcastle were introduced to the Champions League in this match. The last English team with more debutants was Leicester in 2016.
Excited Newcastle crowd showing their team pride.

Player Ratings from the San Siro Showdown

In the heart of Milan, as AC Milan clashed with Newcastle United in their Champions League encounter, each player had a pivotal role to play. While some shone brighter than others, every touch, pass, and movement affected the game’s outcome. Let’s delve deep into how each player performed on this intense European night, marking their influence with a score out of 10.

Here’s a comprehensive breakdown of individual performances from both sides:

AC Milan Player Ratings:




Newcastle United Player Ratings:




Amidst the flurry of performances, one player stood out and earned the accolade of the ‘Player of the Match’: Nick Pope. His heroics between the posts ensured that Newcastle left San Siro with a crucial point.

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About the Author

Born in Liverpool in 1984, Ian Fletcher, a distinguished betting expert, attained a Master’s in Sports Analytics from the University of Manchester in 2010. Between 2011 and 2019, he was engaged with various English football clubs, focusing on tactical analysis and player performance metrics. Fletcher has contributed to 12 academic papers, emphasizing the role of game tempo and set-piece efficiency. In 2020, he transitioned into the realm of journalism. Presently, Fletcher authors in-depth analytical pieces on football, exploring game dynamics and team strategies, and his expertise is sought after by numerous sports platforms.

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