AC Milan 0-0 Newcastle: Nick Pope is the hero with string of saves

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 battled ferociously to secure a point in a backs-against-the-wall night
  • Milan went close with Rafa Leao and Olivier Giroud but Nick Pope stood strong
  • WATCH: It’s All Kicking Off: Mail Sport’s preview of the week ahead in football 

Newcastle will play better than this in Europe this season and lose. Their first Champions League game for two decades, it was at times a bewildering and vaguely traumatic experience. 

Goalkeeper Nick Pope was Eddie Howe’s best player by some distance. There were few other contenders on an evening when they were overrun and outplayed by AC Milan. But somehow Newcastle didn’t lose. They didn’t succumb to the waves of red and black. And so, strangely, their Champions League voyage has begun with a valuable away point and something on which they can build.

This was never going to be easy. A night of genuine significance for Newcastle, it took place in one of European real genuine cathedrals. 

Milan may not have a stellar team these days. Serie A is not the high-end environment it once was. But it’s still the San Siro. It still means something. So this was a night that had ‘challenge’ written all over it for Newcastle. We just expected them to be a little better than this, that’s all. 

Indeed when Dan Burn played a simple pass straight out of play with two minutes left, the home supporters howled their derision.

Nick Pope was Newcastle’s best player as he made save after save on a pressurised evening

Sandro Tonali endured a difficult night on his return to Milan and was subbed off early 


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Certainly, this was not the Newcastle we know. This was not the front foot, energetic side that Howe has presented to the Premier League. Here they were error-strewn and self-harming. They did not lack effort or commitment and they were still throwing bodies in to the way of shots at the death. Equally they didn’t look particularly well organised and seemed to have travelled without much of an attacking plan. To that end they didn’t manage a shot on target all night until Sean Longstaff almost wrote the most unexpected pay-off line of all time with a shot that was touched over by Milan goalkeeper Marco Sportiello deep in to added minutes.

Sandro Tonali – a Milan player until the summer – had a particularly bad night as old team-mates ran off and past him for the 72 minutes that Howe allowed him to have on the field. He was applauded off the field when he was substituted but much of that was coming from the home fans. They don’t forget good players here and one of them, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, was sitting in the stands. Ibrahimovic would have fancied his chances here and he’s 41 now.

For Newcastle the first half was a wholly terrifying experience. The only thing going for it was that it didn’t contain any goals. Having waited so long to be back on this stage, Newcastle looked underprepared and overwhelmed. At times it was quite something to behold.

Milan – beaten here 5-1 by their neighbours Inter at the weekend – reached a Champions League semi-final last season but are far from the strongest team in Europe. Indeed they are some way from the level they once occupied.

Yet here they looked like world beaters, flooding forwards at will. In the centre of the Newcastle midfield, Tanoli was drowning. At one point, having seen Milan’s former Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek surge past him and shoot over, he turned to Howe as thought to suggest the Newcastle back four needed to do his job for him. They did not.

In the Newcastle goal, Pope was busy. He made seven saves in the first half and that tally include five in a hectic six-minute spell around the quarter hour mark. A couple of those were from distance and were routine enough. Others were harder including the superb reaction stop he made when Milan left-back Theo Hernandez was left unmarked seven yards out at a corner. At the end of the night that one stood out as Milan’s really big chance.

There were others, for sure, and Milan’s raiding Portuguese forward Rafael Leao could have scored one of the goals of early autumn here, slashing a tear in the Newcastle defence with a left to right diagonal run that ended with an attempted back heel from six or seven yards and, sadly for him, a most undignified stumble. Tommaso Pobega followed up on the loose ball, meanwhile, and his shot was cleared off the line by Jacob Murphy. 

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

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

Rafael Leao was prominent again in the second half, diving to head over a cross from substitute right-back Alessandro Florenzi. But by then, with sixteen minutes left, Milan were a less energetic side. 

It would be too simple to say Newcastle had drawn their opponents’ sting. The truth is that the Italian team had started to run out of gas.

There were still some scares for Newcastle. There was still work for Pope. There were still blocks to be made. And they were made. That says something about the team that Howe has built. But that team will have to be better than this in Europe this season. 

The result was the best thing about this night by a mile. If lessons are to be learned, they must be so quickly.

Olivier Giroud was a thorn in the side of Newcastle throughout the evening but they did well to contain him 

Newcastle were backed by a passionate section of fans in one of football’s cathedrals (photograph taken before the match)


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Former Chelsea and Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud then sought to profit from some penalty box pinball only for Pope to smother. As a sense of chaos began to be felt in the Newcastle penalty area, captain Kieran Trippier appealed for calm but it was in vain. A Loftus-Cheek header at the far post almost teed up Pobega before Rade Krunic shot from 25 yards and once Pope eased the ball over the top.

From this corner – still with only 18 minutes gone – left-back Theo Hernandez really should have scored. This should have been the moment that Newcastle were served some real punishment. 

He was totally unmarked as he headed for goal from 10 yards but as the ball bounced down and up off the turf it was just about close enough for the goalkeeper to somehow divert it up and over the bar once again. It was a good reaction save from Pope. Equally, had the ball arrived a yard either side – as it should have done – then Milan would indeed have been in the lead.

Newcastle’s forays at the other end were limited. Alexander Isak occasionally dropped deep in search of possession while on the left Anthony Gordon looked as though he had it in him to worry Milan captain Davide Calabria. Getting enough possession was another thing entirely, however.

Howe’s team appealed for a penalty when Longstaff went down under the gentlest of pressure but soon they were almost undone at the other end once again. 

Youngster Elliot Anderson was afforded an opportunity off the bench at the San Siro

Milan substitutes such as Alessandro Florenzi made a difference in a combative match 

Giroud may have done better than direct a low Hernandez cross wide of the near post before the eminently watchable forward Rafael Leao eased diagonally across the field left to right only to fall over his own feet when attempting to backheel the ball towards goal from seven yards. 

It would have been an outrageous finish and maybe on reflection something more conventional would have done it. Pobega followed up on the loose ball, meanwhile, and his shot was cleared off the line by Jacob Murphy.

For Howe and his players, the second half was less dispiriting. Milan lost a little of their energy and with it their threat as the night wore on. Nevertheless, they were still the dominant force and still had further chances to win the game.

Substitute Tijjani Reijnders – on for Pobega on the hour – ran straight through the middle of the Newcastle defence soon after entering the field and brought a low save from Pope. In truth, the shot didn’t match the incisiveness of the run. Then, ten minutes later, another substitute, Alessandro Florenzi, crossed beautifully as he advanced from right-back and Rafael Leao’s diving header directed the ball half a foot over the angle of far post and cross bar. That would have been some 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 in the opening period but slowly they started to resemble a team that needed a goal to really get them going again.

Howe made some changes of his own on a hot early evening. Miguel Almiron, Callum Wilson and young Elliot Anderson all came on to try and help Newcastle in the opponents’ half. Still, though, the territory belonged to Milan. That was something that hadn’t changed all night.

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

Two Newcastle defensive blocks were required in succession with ten minutes to go. Once again the hopes of the home supporters began to raise. Then, with just four minutes left, Longstaff denied Christian Pulisic with another flying block. Newcastle, as they clung to their point, could not be faulted for commitment.


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

BOOKED: 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 72mins 6); Murphy 6 (Wilson 62mins 6), Isak 6 (Barnes 90mins 6), Gordon 6 (Almiron 62mins 5.5).



REFEREE: Jose Maria Sanchez (ESP) 6


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