Published On: Tue, Sep 19th, 2023
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Newcastle have problem to fix in AC Milan draw on Champions League return | Football | Sport

Newcastle came away from the San Siro with a goalless draw and a point against AC Milan to begin their Champions League campaign on their first appearance in the competition for 20 years. Having been handed a star-studded group that also includes Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund, Eddie Howe’s side gave a strong account of themselves in a tough encounter in Italy and showed they are ready to compete, despite some concerns being highlighted. Express Sport takes a look at the talking points from the blockbuster clash.

Built for the big occasion?

Newcastle have shown over the past year that they have fear no Premier League team, especially at St James’ Park, as they stormed to a surprise fourth-placed finish last season ahead of the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea.

However, whether they would acclimatise in a similar fashion in the Champions League away from home was a question that Howe will have pondered over as he prepared his team to visit one of European football’s most iconic destinations – the San Siro to face AC Milan.

Their Italian opponents were the strongest team on the night, as Newcastle especially struggled to create chances on goal, but ultimately protected Nick Pope well and were good value for a point – they will be proud to have something to build upon in a tough group and will believe that they can handle the tenacity of any team in Europe.

Tonali gets warm reception

Sandro Tonali may have been fearing the worst, having seen Newcastle drawn with the club he left last summer as part of a big-money move to the Premier League. He has been an AC Milan fan since childhood, having achieved his dream to play at the San Siro before leaving for St James’ Park.

But the 23-year-old was instead given a rousing reception by the home fans in Milan, thanking him for the work he did while wearing their shirt and Tonali was visibly moved by their well-wishes – a rare instance in football that may suggest that Newcastle have a real gem on their hands.

Howe given attacking warning

Howe will be given pause for thought over his side’s inability to seriously threaten Mike Maignan in the AC Milan goal, failing to muster a single shot on target until the 95th minute as the hosts were the likelier of the two sides to break the deadlock.

The boss changed two of his front three on the hour mark, with Alexander Isak the only forward to remain as Callum Wilson and Miguel Almiron were brought on for Anthony Gordon and Jacob Murphy, as Howe clearly wanted more attacking impetuous.

But perhaps he will be fearing that further reinforcements are necessary in order to compete in the Champions League, despite securing an impressive point on their return to the competition.

Murphy’s telling anthem reaction

Jacob Murphy could not hide his delight at hearing the Champions League anthem belt out around the San Siro as he was given the surprising nod by Howe, having started against AC Milan.

Murphy, who spent several years on loan further down the English Football League, may have given up hope of starting such a high-profile European game but showed how much the moment meant to him – as he grinned from ear to ear just moments before kick-off.

Leao keeps suitors interested

Star man Rafael Leao has been the subject of plenty of interest from the Premier League over the past year, including links from tonight’s opponents, as he reaffirmed just why there has been so much speculation surrounding the forward.

In the first half, Leao went on a dazzling run that saw him breeze past several Newcastle defenders and leave Dan Burn in his wake before he bore down on Pope’s goal, but his backheeled attempt was blocked as he was denied a stunning goal.

He was a constant threat to Kieran Trippier on Newcastle’s right flank and showed once again why he continues to be tipped for a big-money move away from AC Milan.

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