By Score More
In the scorching San Siro heat, Newcastle United faced a demanding challenge but demonstrated commendable resilience against AC Milan’s relentless attacks.
This hard-fought draw against the odds will be treasured by Newcastle’s devoted fans. While acknowledging the need for improvement, the return to the Champions League proved to be a challenging endeavor at times. Nonetheless, securing a point on the opening night provides a solid foundation for future endeavors.
On the flip side, AC Milan may regret squandered opportunities. They generated 25 clear-cut chances, but they encountered an inspired Nick Pope and a resolute Newcastle defense that defended with unwavering determination. Buoyed by the passionate support of Curva Sud, Milan appeared formidable until they reached the final third.
For Newcastle, the night was a valuable learning experience, and they managed to hold their ground. They came agonizingly close to clinching victory in the dying moments when Sean Longstaff tested substitute goalkeeper Marco Sportiello’s reflexes. Newcastle’s traveling supporters would have erupted in celebration had that effort found the back of the net.
This draw allows them to depart from their accommodations on Wednesday with predominantly positive, albeit somewhat hazy, memories. Throughout the day and well into the previous night, Newcastle’s loyal supporters congregated at canal-side bars in the city, marveling at their team’s swift return to the upper echelons of European football.
However, the euphoria of the fans naturally diminished as kick-off approached in the September sun. Although Serie A’s prominence may have diminished since Newcastle’s last Champions League campaign two decades ago, Milan remains a formidable adversary, and the San Siro continues to stand as a revered footballing arena.
Newcastle fondly recalls past memorable away days at the San Siro, particularly their clash against Inter in 2002 when 12,000 fans celebrated Alan Shearer and a spirited squad boasting European experience. The footballing landscape has evolved significantly over the past two decades, and despite their rapid return to the top four, Newcastle undoubtedly faces a learning curve.
In the dugout, valuable lessons awaited as well. Eddie Howe chose to break with tradition by refraining from training at the San Siro on Monday, a tactical decision aimed at concealing his plans from Stefano Pioli and his scouting team. However, if the unexpected inclusion of Jacob Murphy was part of the grand strategy, it failed to yield concrete results. Milan’s seasoned players effectively neutralized Murphy, and he was not alone in struggling.
Defensively, Newcastle displayed unwavering resilience, sacrificing bodies and limbs to thwart Milan’s relentless attacks and maintain parity on the scoreboard. Their determination resembled the tenacity often witnessed in FA Cup third-round fixtures. However, to compete effectively in a group populated with high-caliber opponents, they must offer more.
One of the challenges that Newcastle faced was their relative lack of European experience, which became evident. Midfielders Tonali and Bruno Guimaraes, regarded as the team’s midfield pillars, are yet to form a cohesive partnership. The match at the San Siro highlighted their difficulties in controlling the midfield against top-tier opposition.
Despite Milan’s dominance, Nick Pope’s exceptional performance thwarted their efforts to convert their superiority into goals. Pope, who was recently excluded from the England squad and faced criticism for his early-season form, delivered a masterclass with six outstanding first-half saves. His unwavering resolve proved pivotal in Newcastle’s quest to secure a valuable point.
In the end, Milan’s failure to capitalize on their dominance was largely due to Pope’s heroics. The match served as a rigorous test, and as fans departed the iconic San Siro, Newcastle supporters could reflect on a hard-earned draw while eagerly anticipating more memorable European adventures in the future.