AC Milan 0-0 Newcastle: Five things we learned – glass half empty despite good response

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan begun their 2023-24 Champions League campaign with a frustrating 0-0 draw against Newcastle United in the first group stage game at San Siro.

The statistics from the game speak volumes regarding how dominant Milan were, but ultimately they were thwarted by some heroics from Nick Pope in the Newcastle goal as well has some heroic blocks inside the box.

It is not the ideal start from a result point of view to what will be a very difficult group, with PSG establishing themselves as early front-runners with their win. Here are five things we learned from Tuesday’s game at San Siro…

1. Leao not at that level

Let’s start with an obvious statement: Rafael Leao is Milan’s best forward. He is also one of the only game-changers and match-winners in the squad, which comes with a lot of responsibility to deliver.

He should have been the man to potentially proper Milan to all three points in the first half. Leão beat two opponents in the penalty area, creating space to shoot on his favoured right foot, but he took one touch more than he should have before trying a back heel and falling over.

In many ways that was symbolic of the Rossoneri’s night from a finishing standpoint. While Leao’s numbers continue to get better season by season and he is still only in his early 20s, that miss and his body language change in the second half was rather revealing.

On the biggest stage of all in club football and with some earlier joy that was also there to be exploited as the game became more stretched, he seemed to stop putting in the same hard yards and almost began to sulk.

The talent is there, and while he is still on a path towards his prime years and peak maturation, Leão knows that now he is now a leader of this team and he will be leaned upon to decide games as his salary suggests he can and should.

He will have replayed that chance over and over in his head last night and next time he gets a big chance, we’re sure he’ll be putting his foot through it.

2. Defensive improvement

The 5-1 defeat to Inter on Saturday rocked Milan from many different standpoints, but above all it seemed to expose the defensive uncertainties that many knew were present after last season and the preseason friendlies.

It was amateur hour (and a half) against the Nerazzurri who exposed a stretched Milan time after time in transition and looked like scoring every time they went forward, which they eventually nearly did.

Nonetheless, new week meant new slate. Fikayo Tomori came back into the side to partner Malick Thiaw and we instantly saw what a difference it made to have a pairing that have played together and developed some chemistry.

Dealing with Alexander Isak is not easy; he is an imposing presence who is good technically for his size and he brings the wingers and onrushing midfielders into the game with his hold-up play.

Both Tomori and Thiaw but particularly the former channeled their aggression perfect to limit his influence and keep tabs on the wider players too, while they dealt with Callum Wilson’s pace off the bench too.

The fact Newcastle’s only shot on target came in the 95th minute speaks volumes. A much better collective effort as a unit, something Davide Calabria/Alessandro Florenzi and Theo Hernandez deserve a mention for too.

3. Limitations exposed

The numbers say that Olivier Giroud is Milan’s top scorer this season with four goals in five games across Serie A and the Champions League. Looking beyond that, you see that only one of those has come from open play with the others being penalties.

Penalties still need to be scored and it is better to have a striker who will confidently stick them away rather than leaving it to chance, but Giroud is struggling when it comes to scoring goals from ‘normal’ situations.

There have been doubts about his fitness levels since he suffered a sprained ankle on international duty with France. Let’s be honest though, he has never been the most mobile and his centre-forward responsibilities are now restricted to holding up the ball to bring the wingers in and trying to get on the end of service.

In a game of this level – especially against centre-backs like Fabian Schar and Sven Botman who are physical units that are switched on from a positional standpoint – he didn’t look up to the task.

When Milan surged down the left, Giroud would often be yards behind the play when it came time for a delivery. When there was the chance for Loftus-Cheek to cut-back into the box, the Frenchman wasn’t even in it.

Of course Giroud’s experience and generally clinical finishing can serve a purpose this season, but he cannot be over-worked and over-relied upon. With each game he doesn’t score, the decision not to invest in a striker like Mehdi Taremi draws more reflections.

4. The key to territorial dominance

For good chunks of the first half and for the last 15-20 minutes of the second half, the same pattern repeated itself whereby Milan would build an attack that would either lead to a big chance or would be cleared to the halfway line at furthest.

There, the team were able to regain possession and build again through the thirds of Newcastle’s half. It wasn’t quite wave after wave of attacks, though being able to established such dominance in the central area was massive in such a commanding performance.

Rade Krunic deserves credit for doing the simple things right: efficiency in build-up, being in the right place to recover balls and also stopping some menacing breaks by sticking with his runner.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek played more centrally and deserves immense credit for the rather unseen job he did of shadowing both Bruno Guimarães and Sandro Tonali at times, keeping the Magpies’ two metronomes quiet for almost all 70 minutes he was present.

Then there was Tommaso Pobega, ridiculed by some for even being in the starting line-up. The Italian rose to the occasion and leant a hand in both phases, while he could have had his second UCL goal if Jacob Murphy hadn’t cleared his shot off the line.

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Finally, Yunus Musah was very bright off the bench in advancing play and was a large reason – along with Alessandro Florenzi – for that big spell of pressure that came in the final quarter of the game.

After being totally overrun against Inter, the midfield really stepped up and players like Pobega and Musah not only proved they are well worth their spot, but perhaps asked some questions about a potential starting spot on Saturday against Verona.

5. Missed opportunity

With each round of Champions League action, the scenarios will change. There are five games to go meaning there remains all kinds of different possibilities for how Group F ends up, however it must be said that Milan’s chances of qualifying will not have gone up.

A lot have said that Newcastle at home was the easiest fixture for Stefano Pioli’s side by virtue of the fact they were a pot four side. At the risk of tempting fate, it is probably Borussia Dortmund on paper.

However, when the Toon came to town and played that badly (by their own admission), without ever really having a foothold in the match and having their goal peppered 25 times, any dropped points will make it feel like a glass half empty.

That’s where we stand now. Starting with a deserved win would have been ideal heading into tough away games against Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain, yet now there will probably be a need to avoid defeat in both and maybe win one of those two games.

This is the nature of the beast in the Champions League: in a group with lots of parity you have to take your chances, seize moments, earn points and let the other sides chase. Instead, Milan could have a mountain to climb by the fourth and fifth games now.

Tags AC Milan Milan Newcastle


  1. Media calling Leao a leader doesn’t make Leao a leader.
    New contract that makes him highest paid player on the team doesn’t make Leao a leader.
    Leao saying that he is a leader doesn’t make Leao a leader.
    Leader is someone people look up to, someone they listen to, someone who when things are going good keeps everyone focused, someone when things are bad makes sure it doesn’t get worse and elevates his game.
    Leao is none of those things. He is neither vocal, nor lead by example leader. Posting emojis or liking posts on social media doesn’t make you a leader.
    As a smart man once said:
    “If you think you’re a leader, and there ain’t nobody following you, man, you are just a dude takin’ a walk.”
    Milan doesn’t have a leader on this team, and that’s a huge problem.
    Just look at Theo at the derby. Things were going bad and as usual Theo, who wore the captain’s armband made things worse by creating a brainless penalty. But people think that he is a captain material because he fights with Dumfries during derbies.

    1. Spot on. Leao is a superstar, clearly our best attacker, but he’s no leader. It’s not in his personality. And apart from Mike, nobody really has it in our squad.

    2. Maignan is a leader, simon kjær is a leader in this team even if he plays less now and propably more is a leade in the locker room by now.
      Overall i agree though in regard of leao he is at least not at this point of his career a leader type regardless of his importance to the team,

      1. Simon Kjaer has leader qualities but he is not a leader at Milan because he barely plays. You need a leader on the field, not one watching the game like the rest of the fans.
        As far as Maignan, he is the closest thing to a leader Milan has, , and I might be wrong, but the guy doesn’t speak the language.
        Someone correct me if I’m wrong but I have never heard an interview with Maignan in Italian.
        You can’t lead IF you don’t play or don’t have the ability to communicate in a language the most of the team understands.

        1. still he can be a leader in the locker room and if you notice when he starts matches the players offent stands in a circle with him and pioli taking the word, That also happens on the danish international team so he most deffently still is a leader in thge team but i get what you are saying z but zlatan was also a leader in tne team even though he basically didnt play for the last 1,5 years or something before he left the club his impact was still there.
          I agree maignan is the closest thing thogh as he plays always if fit. There has been an interview in the last half a year where it was mentioned by other players that when he spoke up people would listen so most likely he does speakl some italian or com´municates on english and nowadays most people do understand that language in europe compared to previous generations where italians, germans, french refused to speak other languages than their own.

          1. On a different note the danish team fc copenhagen is leading 2-0 in istanbul against galatasaray 😀 whether they can get the win with 30 minutes left migght be a different matter but lfor now it ooks good for them.

          2. You need someone who is in the fight, in the trenches with you that is a leader, not someone screaming from the bench. At that point he is no different than a coach, assistant coach or even a fan from the stands.
            Look at the Zlatan situation.There was a huge difference last season compared to the previous 2 years with Zlatan as a leader. When he was playing on the field you saw and felt his leadership, but it was missing when he was in the stadium watching the team play from the bench or the sidelines.

          3. Im not disagreeing on that matter that a leader on the fiield is a leader preferred than one on the becnh or in the locker room but still you can still be a leader and klær deffently is it when fielded but as i said i get your assesment.
            Im not diregarding that either but kjær still has played 3 matches this season even if mainly as a substitute his leadership skills is stilll part of his qualities but yeah it certainly would be better having one that is a starter than one on the bench.

        2. I agree with you but most of the Milan players don’t speak Italian as their first language and my guess is they mostly communicate in English now….

  2. While Giroud does need a rest and probably could’ve been subbed off in that game yesterday, he has been very good this season, particularly with his passing. He had an assist on Pulisic’s goal in the first game, set up RLC with a nice pass that drew a penalty. Had a beautiful assist to Leao for our only goal vs Inter. Cut the guy some slack.

  3. Summed it up right, when you are supposed to take 3 points, just take the 3 points, when you are dominating, strangle the opposition with high pressure, bombard their goal area

  4. I disagree that Leao is our best forward. He may be the best at attacking but his overall contribution is low. He is zero effort when it comes to pressing and his defensive hustle barely exists.

    The one thing that makes Leao so important is the other team focuses so heavily on him. This frees up space for other attackers. Besides attacking, he just takes up space.

    Gattuso would talk about how players can’t worry about how they look and need to be ugly. He was referring to everything, including their hustle and ability to fall on their face without being embarrassed. The greatest players have it: Ronaldo, Messi, Benzema, for example. They play like they don’t know anyone is watching them and have no fear of taking risks and making a mistake.

    Leao does not have the right kind of personality to ever be great.

  5. Giroud has been class this season so far …
    Just watch closely at the games he has played in ..
    He has been influential in the wins we have had so far .yes he didn’t score against inter , but that was not due to him ,,.when he got little service ..
    Against Newcastle,,I admit he sometimes did not take positions at the near post enough,,but we did not put that decent crosses in anyway ..Rafeo Leao had a crystal clear chance ,,but overdid things ,when instead of a simple opportunity,tried a back heel into the net .He also overdid things and tried to many times to walk his way through Newcastle defence ,,and gave the ball away too many times …Does that mean he is a bad player certainly not ,,and the same goes for Olivier Giroud,,,who worked very hard in the match ..
    Both must start the next match on Saturday..
    This is a match that we should win by 3 or 4 goals .
    Back to the match against Newcastle ,lets face facts we were the better team ,,,and Newcastle only had one shot in the whole of the match ..overall I thought we played well ..We should have won 2-0
    Tomori was superb and Newcastle forwards could not get passed him ,the timing of his tackles perfection.
    So man of the match for him ..Musah what a performance from him ,and he delivered some decent balls into the penalty area …So he should certainly start Saturday ..
    So this is not a match to leave Giroud or Rafeo leao out ..
    We will still challenge for the scuddeto again this season ….do you think inter will not get beaten of course they will .. Napoli have already lost one match , does that men they are out of the race of course not , nor are we ..

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