AC Milan 0-0 Newcastle: Nick Pope is the hero as Eddie Howe’s men battle to a hard-fought point at the San Siro on their Champions League return

Newcastle will play better than that in Europe this season and lose. Their first Champions League match in two decades was a sometimes confusing and vaguely traumatic experience.

Goalkeeper Nick Pope was by far Eddie Howe’s best player. There were few other contenders on a night when they were outplayed and outplayed by AC Milan.

But Newcastle did not lose. They did not succumb to the red and black waves. And so, strangely, their Champions League journey has started with a valuable away point and something they can build on.

This was never going to be easy. An evening of great importance for Newcastle, it took place in one of the true cathedrals of European football. Milan may not have an exceptional team these days. Serie A is no longer the premium environment it once was. But it’s still the San Siro. It still means something.

So it was a night that had “challenge” written all over it for Newcastle. We just expected them to be a little better than that, that’s all. Indeed, when Dan Burn made a simple pass straight out of the game two minutes from time, the home fans howled their derision.

Nick Pope was Newcastle’s best player as he made save after save on a pressure-filled night.

Sandro Tonali had a difficult night on his return to Milan and was substituted early

Sandro Tonali had a difficult night on his return to Milan and was substituted early

Certainly, it was not the Newcastle we know. This was not the energetic, forward-thinking team that Howe introduced to the Premier League. Here they were fraught with errors and self-harm.

They did not lack effort or commitment and they continued to throw dead bodies in the form of death shots. Likewise, they didn’t look particularly well organized and seemed to have traveled without much of a plan of attack.

To that end, they failed to get a shot on target all night until Sean Longstaff almost wrote the most unexpected gain line of all time with a shot that was palmed away by Milan goalkeeper Marco Sportiello deep into added time.

Sandro Tonali – a Milan player until the summer – had a particularly bad night when Milan midfielders ran away and passed him during the 72 minutes Howe allowed him to spend on the pitch.

He was applauded off the field when he was substituted, but much of that came from the home fans. They don’t forget the good players here and one of them, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, was sitting in the stands. Ibrahimovic would have thought he had his chances here and he is 41 now.

For Newcastle, the first half was a completely terrifying experience. The only thing that was interesting was that it didn’t contain any objectives. After waiting so long to return to this stage, Newcastle looked unprepared and overwhelmed. Sometimes it was something to behold.

Milan – beaten 5-1 here by neighbors Inter at the weekend – reached the Champions League semi-finals last season but are far from the strongest team in Europe. Indeed, they are far from the level they once occupied.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek was a powerful presence in the center of the park for the hosts

Ruben Loftus-Cheek was a powerful presence in the center of the park for the hosts

Tommaso Pobega forced a good save from Nick Pope early on – the first of many in the match

Tommaso Pobega forced a good save from Nick Pope early on – the first of many in the match

Yet here they looked like world beaters, streaming forward at will. In the center of Newcastle’s midfield, Tonali was drowning. At one point, after seeing Milan’s former Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek pass him and shoot over, he turned to Howe, thinking to suggest that Newcastle’s back four should do his work in his place. They do not have.

In the Newcastle goal, Pope was busy. He made seven saves in the first half, including five during a hectic six-minute period around the quarter-hour mark.

Newcastle, supported by 4,000 supporters gathered in the front row behind the goal they were defending, performed well for the first ten minutes or so. It was just a game for a while.

But once Milan found the next gear, Newcastle really started to struggle. Howe’s team couldn’t stop the overloads and overlaps. They were unable to fill the huge holes in their own midfield. Sometimes they couldn’t seem to do the most basic job of possession.

Milan left midfielder Tommaso Pobega was the first to put Pope to work, driving from distance in the 13th minute. When the ball was returned, Pope touched a Samu Chukwueze header over the bar.

Former Chelsea and Arsenal striker Olivier Girod then looked to take advantage of a pinball in the penalty box only for Pope to smother him. As a sense of chaos began to creep into the Newcastle penalty area, captain Kieran Trippier appealed for calm but to no avail. A Loftus-Cheek header at the far post almost hit Pobega before Rade Krunic shot from 25 yards and once Pope slotted the ball over.

From this corner – still only 18 minutes from time – left back Theo Hernández really should have scored. This should have been the moment Newcastle received real punishment.

He was completely unmarked as he headed towards goal from 10 yards, but as the ball bounced up and down the turf he was just about close enough for the goalkeeper to somehow deflects up and over the bar. It was a good reaction, except on Pope’s part. Likewise, if the ball had arrived a meter to either side – as it should have done – then Milan would effectively have taken the lead.

Newcastle’s forays at the other end of the pitch were limited. Alexander Isak sometimes fell deep in search of possession while on the left, Anthony Gordon seemed to want to worry Milan captain Davide Calabria. However, getting enough possession was another thing entirely.

Young Elliot Anderson was given the opportunity to come off the bench at San Siro

Young Elliot Anderson was given the opportunity to come off the bench at San Siro

Howe’s side claimed a penalty when Longstaff went down under the lightest pressure, but soon they were almost undone at the other end.

Giroud may have done better than to head a low cross from Hernandez wide of the near post before the eminently watchable striker Rafael Leao moved diagonally across the field from left to right to fall on his own feet in trying to push the ball back towards goal from seven yards.

This would have been an outrageous finish and perhaps on reflection something more conventional would have done it. Meanwhile, Pobega tracked the loose ball and his shot was cleared off the line by Jacob Murphy.

For Howe and his players, the second half was less discouraging. Milan lost some of their energy and with it their menace as the night wore on. Nevertheless, they were still the dominant force and still had further chances to win the match.

Substitute Tijjani Reijnders – replacing Pobega on the hour – ran through the middle of Newcastle’s defense shortly after entering the field and brought in a low save from Pope. In truth, the shot was no match for the incisiveness of the race. Then, ten minutes later, another substitute, Alessandro Florenzi, crossed beautifully as he advanced from right-back and Rafael Leao’s diving header headed the ball half a foot over the corner of the far post and crossbar. That would have been a goal.

The game was not being played at such a frantic pace as it entered its final third and that suited Newcastle. Milan’s energy had been electrifying at times during the first half, but gradually they began to look like a team that needed a goal to really get going.

Howe made his own changes on a warm early evening. Miguel Almiron, Callum Wilson and youngster Elliot Anderson all came to try and help Newcastle in the opposition half. But the territory belonged to Milan. It was something that hadn’t changed all night.

The statistics highlighted the superiority of the home team. Pope had been Newcastle’s busiest player while Howe’s side had never threatened.

Two defensive blocks from Newcastle were necessary in succession ten minutes from time. Once again, the hopes of the home fans began to rise. Then, with just four minutes left, Longstaff denied Christian Pulisic with another flying block. Newcastle, who clung to their point of view, could not be blamed for their commitment.


AC MILAN: (4-3-3) Maignan 6 (Sportiello 80min 6); Calabria 6 (Florenzi 45 min 6.5), Thiaw 6, Tomori 7, Hernandez 6.5; Loftus-Cheek 6.5 (Musah 71 mins 6), Krunic 6, Pobega 6.5 ​​(Reijnders 60 mins 6.5); Chukwueze 6.5 (Pulisic 60 minutes 6), Giroud 6, Rafael Leao 7

RESERVED: Calabria, Reijnders, Giroud


NEWCASTLE UNITED: (4-3-3) Pope 8.5; Trippier 6, Schar 6, Botman 6, Burn 5.5; Longstaff 6, Bruno 5.5, Tonali 5 (Anderson 72 minutes 6); Murphy 6 (Wilson 62 mins 6), Isak 6 (Barnes 90 mins 6), Gordon 6 (Almiron 62 mins 5.5).



REFEREE: José María Sánchez (ESP) 6