On their first Champions League appearance in 20 years, Newcastle United eked out a hard-fought point away to AC Milan, holding on to a 0-0 draw on Tuesday night.
Newcastle’s last game on the road against Europe’s elite was also a draw at San Siro coincidentally. Inter, the Magpies’ opponents in 2003, scored twice but Milan had more than enough chances to better that tally in midweek.
Yet, a combination of Nick Pope’s fine goalkeeping and Milan’s egregious finishing preserved a draw for Newcastle. With games against Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund on the horizon, it could prove to be a precious point.
How the game unfolded
“It’s loud in the stadium and it’s not even half-full,” Eddie Howe remarked pre-game, a sense of awe creeping into the manager’s voice. Howe’s team stuttered in front of the raucous crowd, shipping nine shots in the opening 20 minutes. Fortunately for the visitors, Milan directed each early effort wide or straight into Pope’s gloves.
Rafael Leao failed to even test Pope half an hour into the contest. Spearheading a rapid break, Leao tip-toed through a forest of black and white stripes clumped together inside Newcastle’s penalty area but stabbed the turf rather than the ball with an attempted back-heel. Amid the ensuing chaos, Jacob Murphy hurriedly cleared Tommaso Pobega’s effort off the goal line.
Beyond the cacophony of the San Siro crowd, Howe could have a quiet word with his side during the half-time interval. Newcastle reemerged from the break with much tighter stitching between their lines, frustrating Milan and even dampening the din from the home fans.
The more limited chances that Milan did create after the break invariably involved Leao, but the Portuguese starlet had not fine-tuned his radar. The rest of the home side were similarly wasteful.
Milan’s goalkeeper Mike Maignan, by comparison, limped off in the 80th minute without needing to make a single save. His replacement, Marco Sportiello, tipped over Sean Longstaff’s stinging long-range effort in stoppage time – which was Newcastle’s first and only shot on target of the match.
GK: Mike Maignan – 6/10 – Given precious little to do before injury forced him off in the second half.
RB: Davide Calabria – 4/10 – Not as willing to tuck into midfield as he has been in Serie A, limiting his involvement before a surprise half-time substitution.
CB: Malick Thiaw – 7/10 – More reactive than his centre-back partner, defending the space rather than grabbing any opposition shirts.
CB: Fikayo Tomori – 8/10 – Back in the side after missing the derby demolition, Tomori stuck to Alexander Isak like glue.
LB: Theo Hernandez – 7/10 – Cantered forward at every given opportunity, haring beyond, outside and inside Leao to outnumber Kieran Trippier.
CM: Ruben Loftus-Cheek – 5/10 – Entangled with his opposite number Sandro Tonali for much of the match. Loftus-Cheek managed to injure himself while bursting past the former Milan man.
CM: Rade Krunic – 6/10 – Sweeping up at the base of midfield, Krunic was one of the few figures in red and black that didn’t hurtle forwards for an attacking transition.
CM: Tommaso Pobega – 5/10 – What he lacked in dexterity, Pobega made up for it with industry, chugging up and down San Siro tirelessly.
RW: Samuel Chukwueze – 3/10 – On his first start for Milan, Chukwueze’s game was hampered by hesitancy.
ST: Olivier Giroud – 6/10 – Even with bleach-blonde highlights, Giroud seemed to drift unnoticed away from Sven Botman for much of the contest.
LW: Rafael Leao – 7/10 – Utterly uninterested in any defensive work, Leao lurked around the final third almost nonchalantly. Even when in possession, Leao breezed past his opponents with an airy ease but lacked that clinical edge.
SUB: Alessandro Florenzi (46′ for Calabria) – 6/10 – Immediately caught up to the speed of the tie.
SUB: Tijani Reijnders (61′ for Pobega) – 6/10 – Injected some urgency into Milan’s midfield.
SUB: Christian Pulisic (61′ for Chukwueze) – 5/10
SUB: Yunus Musah (72′ for Loftus-Cheek) – 5/10
SUB: Marco Sportiello (80′ for Maignan) – N/A
Subs not used: Antonio Mirante (GK), Simon Kjaer, Davide Bartesaghi, Yacine Adli, Noah Okafor, Luka Jovic
Stefano Pioli – 6/10 – Recovering from a humbling 5-1 loss against Inter on Saturday, there were few scars from that reverse. But for better finishing, it would have been a comfortable win for Pioli and Milan.
GK: Nick Pope – 8/10 – Without making a spectacular stop – thanks to a combination of Milan’s finishing and his prescient positioning – Pope rebuffed a raft of goal-bound efforts.
RB: Kieran Trippier – 6/10 – Newcastle’s rare example of European experience struggled to live with Leao but muzzled everyone else that came near him.
CB: Fabian Schar – 6/10 – Composed when bringing the ball forward out of defence. Less assured when back-pedalling in transition.
CB: Sven Botman – 5/10 – Up against a team that was interested in him before he left Lille, Botman didn’t exactly show Milan what they missed out on.
LB: Dan Burn – 6/10 – Unsurprisingly no-nonsense. Burn kept Chukwueze very quiet.
CM: Sean Longstaff – 4/10 – Tumbled too easily when he had the chance to shoot inside the box in the first half.
CM: Bruno Guimaraes – 6/10 – More scrappy than silky, Guimaraes became bogged down in a feverish midfield battle.
CM: Sandro Tonali – 5/10 – Up against his boyhood club, Tonali failed to put his stamp on his homecoming.
RW: Jacob Murphy – 5/10 – Didn’t always help Trippier out when Hernandez surged forward but got back to clear off the line in the first half.
ST: Alexander Isak – 3/10 – Forced to roam around the pitch in search of a blade of grace that wasn’t being trampled by Tomori. Breathed a heavy sigh of relief when shifted wider following Callum Wilson’s introduction.
LW: Anthony Gordon – 5/10 – Threatening when he had space to sprint into but those openings were limited.
SUB: Callum Wilson (63′ for Gordon) – 5/10
SUB: Miguel Almiron (63′ for Murphy) – 5/10
SUB: Elliot Anderson (72′ for Tonali) – 5/10
SUB: Harvey Barnes (90′ for Guimaraes) – N/A
Subs not used: Loris Karius (GK), Aidan Harris (GK), Tino Livramento, Paul Dummett, Matt Targett, Lewis Hall, Jamaal Lascelles, Lewis Miley
Eddie Howe – 6/10 – Whether his words influenced the improvement or not, Howe definitely saw Newcastle tighten up in the second half.