Twenty years in the past, Newcastle United went to the San Siro and got here away with a draw. Two many years later and, of their first Champions League away match since, Eddie Howe’s facet nearly managed to hold on in an effort to repeat the feat. A goalless draw in opposition to AC Milan lacked the scoreline of that earlier 2-2 in opposition to Inter in 2003, however given the dominance of the Italian facet and the sheer quantity of their possibilities the hosts wasted, this can go down as a beneficial level on Newcastle’s long-awaited return to Europe’s high desk.
Whether it’s sufficient in a gaggle that additionally incorporates Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund seems like a separate concern, and whether or not, in time, the Premier League facet might remorse not doing extra to attempt to take three, however even asking that query is an indication of how a lot has modified in 20 years. This is just not an important Milan crew and Newcastle’s wealth is now far higher than the seven-time European champions. Although Champions League semi-finalists final season, Milan completed fifth in Serie A in the identical 12 months and on Saturday have been thrashed 5-1 by Inter within the derby.
Yet this can nonetheless be a memorable journey for many who travelled from the north east, which nearly turned a well-known one on the loss of life. It took Newcastle till the 94th minute to have their first shot heading in the right direction however it got here near beautiful the San Siro, as Sean Longstaff’s drive was tipped over by substitute keeper Marco Sportiello. It would have been the last word smash-and-grab, with Milan ending with 25 pictures on aim and Nick Pope having to make a sequence of saves to earn Newcastle their level.
That was as a result of a historic event for Newcastle threatened to be a horrid one at instances. Jacob Murphy had a smile as extensive because the San Siro because the Champions League anthem was performed out throughout the enduring stadium and Newcastle made their return, however the guests lived dangerously and Milan’s greatest alternatives fell to the one participant Howe wouldn’t have wished them to in Rafael Leao. There have been clear possibilities in both half, first as Leao beat a string of Newcastle defenders within the field after which beat himself, tripping over his toes as he tried a backheel, after which he met Florenzi’s cross, however the Portugal ahead’s header fizzed over the bar.
It summed up Milan’s wastefulness. Stefano Piolo’s facet didn’t battle to create possibilities; slightly their problem got here from placing them away. Pope, busy on his first Champions League look, denied drives from Tommaso Pobega after which Rade Krunic, an opportunity for Samuel Chuckweze on the again publish after which, impressively, Theo Hernandez’s downward header from shut vary. Leao’s failure of a backheel after a shocking dribble by way of a crowded field was adopted by Pobega having his shot cleared off the road.
It was one other let-off for Newcastle, whose qualification to the Champions League final season and breaking up of the Premier League’s ‘big six’ was partly all the way down to their capability to frustrate one of the best, to be organised and disciplined with their work off the ball as a lot as on, notably away from house. Newcastle pressed excessive from Milan goal-kicks, they dropped deep in open play, however struggled to maintain the ball lengthy sufficient in midfield to halt the Italian facet’s momentum.
Yet if the presence of Sandro Tonali, signed from Milan, now enjoying in opposition to them within the San Siro, was an indication of their ambitions to hitch Europe’s elite, that Newcastle began with Murphy, Dan Burn and Longstaff of their Champions League opener was a reminder of the place they’d come from when Howe took cost. For all of Newcastle’s monumental wealth that now vastly outstrips a membership as prestigious as Milan, inherited primarily from the takeover by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, but additionally from the Premier League, this was nonetheless a brand new expertise for gamers who started their journey with Howe with the membership battling relegation.
For Howe, too, this was fully new. Indeed, the 45-year-old admitted he had by no means even attended a Champions League match earlier than Newcastle’s journey to Italy. There have been enhancements after the break from Howe’s facet, spells the place the guests discovered a method to gradual Milan down and final season’s semi-finalists turned much less threatening. But the hazard all the time lingered: Tijjani Reijnders took a contact into the field, however as soon as once more the shot was despatched straight down the throat of Pope. For all the England goalkeeper’s saves, Sportiello maybe produced the decide of them as he tipped Longstaff’s late effort over.
There is an argument that Milan are the weakest of the 4 sides within the ‘group of death’ and it could possibly be that the true worth of Newcastle’s level right here is just not identified till they’ve confronted the opposite massive names in Group F. But this was a begin and, after 20 years, a treasured one for Newcastle in its personal approach.