AC Milan get their 2023-24 European campaign underway at San Siro on Tuesday evening as they face Newcastle United in the first round of Champions League group stage action.
After the derby dismantling at the hands of Inter on Saturday, there is the need for an immediate response from the Rossoneri in order to not throw away the very positive signs from the first three rounds of the season.
Stefano Pioli stressed the importance of putting the weekend’s disappointment firmly in the past and trying to use the home crowd as a springboard to get back on the right path in his pre-match press conference.
Game date: Tuesday, September 19
Kick-off time: 18:45 (CEST)
Venue: San Siro
Referee: Jose Maria Sanchez (VAR: Hernandez)
The 5-1 loss to Inter has left Pioli with some uncertainty, and there are a couple of reasons why he might well choose to make changes to his line-up.
The first is that the players who have played all four games from the start must be given some rest and new energy is needed in Europe, and the second is more psychological because clear minds are needed after such a damaging defeat.
One of the the changes will almost certainly be in defence where Fikayo Tomori – suspended against Inter and replaced by Simon Kjaer – will return to partner Malick Thiaw, who had a lot of issues himself against the Nerazzurri.
In attack, there should be a chance for Samuel Chukwueze. He would replace Pulisic and get his first start of the season, given that the USA was first to come off in the derby after a lot of travelling over the international break.
The final change should be in midfield where one of Ruben Loftus-Cheek or Tijjani Reijnders (most likely the latter) is expected to be replaced by Tommaso Pobega, who made eight appearances and one goal in the last edition of the Champions League.
For the first game in the group experience is needed which Yunus Musah doesn’t yet have, while Noah Okafor and Luka Jovic could come on in the second half.
Probable Milan XI (4-3-3): Maignan; Calabria, Tomori, Thiaw, Theo Hernandez; Loftus-Cheek, Krunic, Pobega; Chukwueze, Giroud, Leao.
Newcastle managed to secure a fourth-placed finish last season and thus a first Champions League berth in 20 years, so during the summer they attempted to take advantage of the momentum generated.
They of course spent big on the signing of Sandro Tonali from Milan to add a new dimension to their midfield department, while they also invested in the signings of Harvey Barnes from Leicester and Tino Livramento from Southampton. Yankubah Minteh also joined them from OB.
Despite bolstering the squad, the Toon have had a mixed start to the season in the Premier League. They beat Aston Villa 5-1 in the first game of the season, but then lost to Manchester City, Liverpool (despite being a goal up with 10 men) and Brighton, before returning to winning ways on Saturday against Brentford.
Sky are reporting that Tonali did the entire training session with his team-mates today and will therefore get the nod to start on the right side of the midfield three Eddie Howe will deploy.
In terms of other team news, Joelinton is out of the game which means that Sean Longstaff and Bruno Guimarães will be the duo that complete the three-man midfield.
Nick Pope will be in goal with Kieran Trippier at right-back, Fabian Schar and Sven Botman as the two centre-backs and then Dan Burn as the left-back.
The attacking trident should be composed of Anthony Gordon and Miguel Almiron as the left and right wingers either side of Alexander Isak.
Probable Newcastle XI (4-3-3): Pope; Trippier, Schar, Botman, Burn; Tonali, Guimaraes, Longstaff; Almiron, Isak, Gordon.
Head to head
Milan have played 10 teams from England before ranging from Manchester United who they have met 12 times in official competitions to Portsmouth who they played in the UEFA Cup once 15 years ago.
However, they have never played Newcastle United in their history meaning that this will be a first for both clubs, though it will not be the Magpies’ first visit to San Siro.
That is because they have played Inter four times in their history, losing only once, winning once and drawing twice. They have also played Juventus and Roma twice, as well as Palermo once.
Newcastle’s overall record against Italian clubs reads as follows: 9 games, 3 wins, 3 draws and 3 defeats.
➤ This is the first ever competitive meeting between Milan and Newcastle – Milan have won just one of their last 11 matches against English sides (D2 L8), though that did come against Spurs in last season’s UEFA Champions League (1-0).
➤ Newcastle won their last European away game against Italian opposition, beating Palermo 1-0 in the 2006-07 UEFA Cup. They’d failed to win any of their first four visits to Italy before this (D2 L2).
➤ This will be Milan’s 20th UEFA Champions League campaign, the second most of any Italian side after Juventus (23). After seven season absence between 2014-15 and 2020-21, this is their third consecutive campaign in the competition.
➤ Semi-finalists last season, Milan have only been eliminated from the first round group stage in one of their last 14 UEFA Champions League campaigns (2021-22).
➤ This will be Newcastle’s third appearance in the UEFA Champions League, having previously played in the 1997-98 and 2002-03 campaigns. Their last match was 20 years and 184 days ago, with this the longest gap between games for an English side in the competition.
➤ In their last appearance in the UEFA Champions League (2002-03), Newcastle United became the first side to lose their opening three matches yet still progress to the next round. Atalanta in 2019-20 are the only side to have achieved this since.
➤ Milan have won their last two games in the group stage in the UEFA Champions League (4-0 v both Dinamo Zagreb and FC Red Bull Salzburg), and will be looking to win three in a row in the group stage for the first time since September 2006 under Carlo Ancelotti (3).
➤ Newcastle have a 56% win rate in UEFA Champions League home matches (W5 DO L4), compared to just 22% away from home (W2 D2 L5).
➤ Only Vinicius Júnior (47) made more successful take-ons in the UEFA Champions League than Rafael Leão (39) in 2022-23, while the Portuguese had both the most expected goals (1.2) and expected assists (1.2) following take-ons of any player in the competition last term.
➤ Newcastle midfielder Sandro Tonali played in all 12 of Milan’s games in the UEFA Champions League last season, with his total of 1,053 minutes played being not only the most of any Milan player, but the most of any outfielder overall in 2022-23.
Ones to watch
Giroud and Leao were the main attacking threats for Milan in the Champions League last season and that is likely to continue, but there will be a lot of eyes on Chukwueze presuming he does start, given he was the most expensive summer signing but has only come off the bench so far.
Answers are needed from all of the back four after Saturday’s dreadful showing, while in midfield Pobega and Loftus-Cheek/Reijnders must strike a balance between contributing to the attack and helping Reijnders in transition.
There is no doubting who the two big threats for Newcastle are in the attacking department, with Callum Wilson and Alexander Isak having already combined for five goals in the Premier League this season. Anthony Gordon and Harvey Barnes provide the creativity from wide areas, with each having a goal and an assist.
At the back, Sven Botman will come to the stadium he could have called his own had he joined last summer instead of choosing the Tynesiders. In midfield, Tonali would of course get a tremendous reception but it is Bruno Guimarães who remains their lynchpin and metronome.
The derby defeat will have undoubtedly had a mental impact on Pioli’s team and while they have often responded well to adversity, this isn’t the kind of game where either side will go gung-ho for the win and that’s why it could be a cagey early-group affair.
AC Milan 1-1 Newcastle