AC Milan held up their end of the bargain with a 2-1 victory away against Newcastle United last night, but unfortunately it was not enough to reach the last 16 of the Champions League.
Joelinton gave Newcastle the lead in the first half with a well-taken goal from the edge of the box, finding the top corner after a feed from Lewis Miley and it was no more than their pressure had deserved.
However, Milan roared back in the second half with a much better performance, equalising firstly through Christian Pulisic after Olivier Giroud’s square, and then Samuel Chukwueze found the far corner with a brilliant curling shot to win it inside the final 10 minutes.
Milan’s Champions League journey came to an end but they did secure a Europa League spot. Here are five things we learned from the game…
1. Rearguard action
It was always going to be a tough game at the back for Milan considering all the injuries that have forced Theo Hernandez to play alongside Fikayo Tomori in the center of the defence. At the same time, Alessandro Florenzi has been deployed on the left flank instead of the Frenchman.
Despite the goal conceded we did see defensive excellence, particularly from Maignan and Tomori with the Englishman leading the way at the back and making a crucial tackle to clear the ball of the goal line and preserve the 1-0 deficit. He then continued in the same strong manner playing a fantastic game and helping his side win the game and secure European football in the new year.
Maignan also made a spectacular save to deny Bruno Guimaraes, which was a huge boost for his team-mates who eventually found the winning goal. On top of that, the goalkeeper was commanding in the box and was fouled several times because of his excellent movement and decision-making in his box. A world-class performance by the two, who led the way defensively.
2. Star man disappoints
Whilst Tomori and Maignan impressed, the Rossoneri’s main man – Rafael Leao – disappointed with his performance. He rarely got on the ball in the first half, and in the second when Milan picked up the pace and started to look more dangerous, the Portuguese was still not as deadly as you’d expect especially against a rather slow Newcastle backline.
The biggest criticism, however, is on the occasion where the Portuguese found himself on one with Dubravka and failed to score on a wide-open goal, hitting the post instead. The score was 1-1 at that point and Leao had the chance to bring calmness to Milan’s game, but butchered it leaving lots to be desired. A really disappointing display by his standards.
📊 The stats from the win against Newcastle… pic.twitter.com/uGeI1IG88M
— MilanData📊 (@acmilandata) December 13, 2023
3. Mixed feeling in the middle of the park
Newcastle’s goal came after the Magpies were given plenty of space to work with the ball, mainly by Theo Hernandez, but also by the whole Milan midfield who were nowhere to be found. Musah, Loftus-Cheek, and Reijnders struggled quite a bit in the first half with the Dutchman the only positive in the opening minutes.
In the second half, we saw an improved performance and that showed with the final result, but it was very mixed from Loftus-Cheek, who despite winning a lot of duels made some really bad decisions. Musah was also not that active, whilst Reijnders was the engine and the most positive player in the middle.
The Dutchman looked really comfortable on the ball helping in both phases of the game as he really stepped up in the second half, but he too could’ve done better on a couple of occasions.
4. Chukwueze to the rescue
Samuel Chukwueze has been heavily criticised since the beginning of the season and rightfully so for the bigger part of it, but he sure knows when to score a big goal in the Champions League.
The right winger scored what should have been a very important goal against Borussia Dortmund in Milano and now he has netted the winner against Newcastle shortly after coming onto the pitch, 68 seconds to be exact.
A big goal on a big night for Chukwueze, who failed to build momentum after the positive display against Dortmund, but has a big morale boost following this performance and Pioli will be hoping for him to continue with the clutch goals.
5. Jovic continues to improve
The Serbian has been improving in the last few weeks and continued that trend against Newcastle. Whilst he failed to score off the bench, he did get the hockey assist on the winning goal and should’ve really grabbed another assist or two but his team-mates couldn’t stop fluffing their lines.
He fought a lot and made some good moves whilst also showing his vision and passing abilities. This might just earn him a spot instead of Giroud on the weekend.