AC Milan 0 Newcastle 0: Howe’s pressing problem, Milan’s misses, Tonali’s quiet return | Brasarr

Newcastle United began their first Champions League campaign in 20 years by drawing 0-0 with AC Milan at the San Siro.

With Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain also in Group F, it promises to be a tough competition to reach the knockout stages.

Here, our writers break down the key talking points from the game (you can relive it all here).

A good draw for Newcastle and an injury concern for Milan

Eddie Howe’s side were undoubtedly on the back foot in the first half, but they withstood the Milan pressure and earned a priceless point. They put bodies on the line when needed (six opposition shots blocked) and Nick Pope made an excellent eight saves.

It’s the most competitive of the groups – before kick-off Opta predicted a 31 per cent chance of Newcastle finishing top in December, a 26 per cent chance of finishing second, 24 per cent of third place (and a place in Europe). League knockout stage in February) and 19 percent of bringing up at the back.

Away form is in no way a prerequisite for success in this competition.

Last season’s winners Manchester City won just one of six on their travels – and that was in the first leg against Sevilla. They then drew 0-0 in the group at Dortmund and FC Copenhagen and 1-1 in the three knockout games against RB Leipzig, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. Similarly, Liverpool lost all three away games in 2018-19 as they went on to lift the trophy – 1-0 at Napoli, 2-0 at Red Star Belgrade and 2-1 at Paris Saint-Germain.

Newcastle are not expected to go very far in the tournament, but being a successful Champions League team has a lot to do with defensive solidity.

If anything, this was a huge missed opportunity for Milan, especially after starting the game so well. Not scoring, despite taking 25 shots, is wasteful and the win would have gone a long way to avenging Saturday’s 5-1 derby defeat to Inter.

Perhaps the biggest blow to them on the night is the injury that forced goalkeeper Mike Maignan off late though.

Liam Tharme

But did Howe’s approach show real faith?

Given Newcastle’s form, and the difficulty of the group, it is understandable that they went into the game cautiously. After all, this was a Milan team that reached the semi-finals of this competition last season.

(Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images)

Newcastle played like a team that started out thinking they were underdogs. They worked best in transition, were careful to always keep two midfielders back and threw themselves into blocks. But given Milan’s loss at the weekend – as well as the undoubted attacking talent Newcastle possess – there was also reason Howe’s side should not have taken on that role.

Sean Longstaff’s late strike showed Newcastle had chances to win and their performance throughout showed they belonged at this level.

In the home games, where you have to win to progress, there must not be an inferiority complex.

Jacob Whitehead

Pioli’s tweak gets the better of Howe’s pressure before Calabria leaves

Stefano Pioli’s home side needed the first half – they had fallen behind early against Inter at the weekend and struggled to control the game from there.

A tactical tweak this time saw right-back Davide Calabria hold the width, having played inside in Milan’s previous three Serie A games, turning their 4-3-3 into a 3-2-5. This time, Milan stayed in a 4-3-3 with wide backs and wingers, playing Rade Krunic as a single pivot. Newcastle’s pressing was aggressive, but Eddie Howe positioned wingers Anthony Gordon and Jacob Murphy narrowly, in line with Milan’s centre-back.

This left room for goalkeeper Mike Maignan to chip passes to his full-backs and Milan escaped that way. He completed more passes to his full-backs (eight) than his centre-backs (five) in the first half. Maignan also kicked wide to striker Olivier Giroud and winger Rafael Leao, who moved inside and took Kieran Trippier with him, leaving room for left-back Theo Hernandez to overlap.

The knock-on effect was that a central midfielder from Newcastle had to press Milan’s full-back, which in turn opened up space centrally. Overall, Newcastle’s midfield was stretched to allow Milan access to their forwards from wide areas, and the home side also had them out of position to collect second balls.

Pioli’s switch from the weekend with Tommaso Pobega for Tijjani Reijnders offered the necessary physicality to combat Newcastle in central midfield.

Milan had 15 shots in the first half, more than they managed in the first 45 minutes of any Champions League game last season as they reached the semi-finals. Seven of them were on target, including one that forced a goal-line clearance – also better than all of their European first halves a year ago.

Calabria’s half-time substitution, a result of his yellow card after fouling Gordon, derailed Milan’s attacking plan for most of the second half.

Liam Tharme

Milan’s lack of finishing

Milan were coming off a humiliating 5-1 derby defeat at Inter on Saturday night and needed a positive result here to gain a foothold in the 2023-24 Champions League’s supposed “Group of Death”. What ensued was an entertaining – if mildly revolting – display.

Their 15 first-half shots were the most they have managed in Champions League competition since a 2011-12 meeting with BATE Borisov of Belarus.

The stat loses a bit of luster when you consider that only seven of those shots were on target, with another section aimed directly at ‘keeper Nick Pope in key areas, but it speaks to the curious construction of Stefano Pioli’s side. Milan have a great collection of ball carriers, but the decisive action in the final third was lacking for most of the evening.

Against a Newcastle side that was solid, if a little shaky under the brighter lights of the Champions League, Pioli’s men should have been out of sight after the hour.

The introductions of Christian Pulisic and Tijjani Reijnders at that point brought a further injection of pace and attacking power to things, but an effort from the former in the 64th minute summed things up: a dribble clever enough to extract a yard of space in a dangerous territory. area, then a shot dull enough to leave Pope unbothered.

An injury-enforced substitution of Yunus Musah for Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the 72nd minute took a layer of luster from Milan’s attacking machine. “They need to find the corners with a bit more power,” was former England coach Glenn Hoddle’s assessment of the home side’s shooting.

This has been called a group of death because every team in it is good, but all four are prone to the odd mistake.

The final score was 0-0, but the expected goals (xG) figures of 2.08 for Milan and Newcastle’s 0.19 painted a fuller picture of the hosts’ waste.

Carl Anka

Sandro Tonali gets the quiet San Siro back

Sandro Tonali said before the game that it had taken time to settle into life at Newcastle following his summer move from Milan, and that was certainly the case here.

After an hour he had attempted 10 passes, compared to the 30 of his midfield partners Sean Longstaff and Bruno Guimaraes, and had just 20 touches.

Having left the San Siro for St James’ Park in June for around €70m (£60m; $75m), a return day felt fateful even before Newcastle’s ball was drawn to place them in Group F. A future captain in black and red, now in black and white.

This was Tonali’s first start as a left-sided No.8 in Eddie Howe’s 4-3-3, having started Newcastle’s first four league games on the right, playing behind Miguel Almiron. After being rested for Saturday’s home win over Brentford, the Italian had last seen his No.8 shirt bomb forward against Brighton on September 2, leaving chasms as Newcastle suffered a 3-1 away defeat.

As a whole, Newcastle’s performance was cautious, a side wary of Milan’s danger in transition. Tonali encapsulated this approach – of course he knows Milan’s strengths more than most – and this was a player anxious to convince himself, despite the seduction of a goal-scoring return.

The entire stadium applauded him when he was replaced by Elliot Anderson after 71 minutes – the feeling not just of thanks for his previous three seasons at the club, but also that he had not harmed them tonight.

Jacob Whitehead

Pulisic sparks as Musah makes Champions League debut

Having started all four of Milan’s Serie A games so far this season, Christian Pulisic found himself on the bench for their Champions League opener. However, fans of the US international should be fearful of a repeat of his Chelsea fate in Italy as he picked up an early hook during the 5-1 thrashing of Inter on Saturday.

Nevertheless, the winger looked lively when he replaced Samuel Chukwueze after 61 minutes. Although both of his shots went wide, he led all Milan players with five touches inside Newcastle’s box from the moment he came on.

Milan also gave American Yunus Musah his Champions League debut after three seasons with Spanish side Valencia, checking in after 70 minutes. The 20-year-old was brought in to help stretch the game against a relatively stationary Newcastle defence, working in right-centre half with Pulisic to unsettle Dan Burn and set up shop far closer to the box.

Unfortunately for their side, their entries did not lead to a Milan winner. Nevertheless, their second-nature connection due to their time with the national team has given Musah a clear way to make an impact as he works his way into coach Stefano Pioli’s rotation.

Jeff Rueter

Aidan Harris, the 16-year-old named on Newcastle’s bench

One name Newcastle fans may not be familiar with is their 16-year-old replacement goalkeeper Aidan Harris.

From Washington, a short drive south of the city, he took advantage of the Champions League’s expanded benches to be named alongside Loris Karius among the substitutes here.

With Newcastle Under-19s playing their Milan counterparts in the UEFA Youth League earlier in the day, it means he bypasses Max Thompson and Jude Smith on the senior bench. What an experience.

Jacob Whitehead

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