NEWCASTLE UNITED return to the Champions League stage after an absence of more than two decades tomorrow night when they take on AC Milan at the San Siro.

What are the key talking points ahead of the Magpies’ opening group game?


Tomorrow’s game marks Newcastle’s first competitive meeting with AC Milan – but it is not the first time the Magpies have played a Champions League fixture at the San Siro.

A Newcastle side managed by Sir Bobby Robson took on AC Milan’s city rivals, Inter, in the second group stage of the Champions League in March 2003, in the days when there were two rounds of group action before the knockout stages began.


Needing to claim at least a point to have any chance of remaining in the competition, the Magpies played out a thrilling 2-2 draw with more than 10,000 travelling fans packed into the San Siro.

Having hit the crossbar through Nolberto Solano in the early stages, Newcastle claimed a 42nd minute lead when Craig Bellamy crossed from the right and Alan Shearer, fresh from a hat-trick against Bayer Leverkusen in the Magpies’ previous Champions League game, converted from close range.

Inter levelled at the start of the second half when Christian Vieri converted Sergio Conceicao’s cross, but Newcastle reclaimed their lead two minutes later when Francesco Toldo flapped at a Laurent Robert cross, enabling Shearer to stab home his second goal of the game.

Inter made it 2-2 shortly after the hour mark, with Ivan Cordoba outjumping Gary Speed to head home from a free-kick.


The Northern Echo: Newcastle United midfielder Sandro TonaliNewcastle United midfielder Sandro Tonali (Image: PA)

Newcastle’s trip to the San Siro represents an emotional homecoming for Sandro Tonali, who left AC Milan to move to Tyneside in the summer.

Tonali, who was featured on the front page of today’s ‘Tutto Sport’ sports newspaper in Italy,  grew up as a boyhood AC Milan fan, and described his move to the club from Brescia in 2021 as a “dream come true”.

The midfielder made a total of 130 senior appearances during his time as an AC Milan player, scoring seven goals, with his greatest moments coming during the 2021-22 season when his five goals and three assists helped Milan claim their first Serie A title for 11 years. Tonali was also a key member of the AC Milan side that reached the Champions League semi-finals last season before losing to Inter.

The 23-year-old was forced to sit out Newcastle’s weekend win over Brentford after suffering a thigh injury while on international duty with Italy last week. However, Howe described his absence from the 1-0 win as a ‘largely precautionary measure’, and Tonali is expected to be back in the Magpies’ starting line-up at his former home tomorrow.


While Tonali is expected to return to the starting side tomorrow – most probably in place of Elliot Anderson – Howe faces a number of other selection posers as he ponders the make-up of his starting XI.

Nick Pope will start in goal, and unless Howe decides to throw in a curve-ball by selecting either Matt Targett or Lewis Hall ahead of Dan Burn at left-back, the back four surely picks itself with Burn set to line up alongside Sven Botman, Fabian Schar and Kieran Trippier.

Tonali is likely to form a midfield three with Sean Longstaff and Bruno Guimaraes, with Joelinton set to be sidelined for a number of weeks after suffering a recurrence of a long-standing knee injury while on international duty with Brazil last week.

It is in attack where Howe has his biggest decisions to make, with Harvey Barnes and Anthony Gordon having started on either side of Callum Wilson at the weekend.

Despite scoring Newcastle’s winner against Brentford, Wilson is expected to make way for Alexander Isak as Howe rotates in the final third. There is also a good chance of Miguel Almiron returning to the starting side, most probably in place of Barnes, with Gordon retaining his place in the XI.


While Newcastle were claiming a morale-boosting win over Brentford at the weekend, AC Milan were suffering a chastening 5-1 defeat in one of their biggest games of the season, the city derby with Inter.

Milan were 2-0 down at the interval after conceding goals to Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marcus Thuram, and while Rafel Leao halved the deficit with a goal of his own at the start of the second half, Inter confirmed their superiority with three more goals in the final 21 minutes from Mkhitaryan, Hakan Calhanoglu and Davide Frattesi.

It was a humiliating defeat for the ‘Rossoneri’, and it will be interesting to see whether their head coach, Stefani Pioli, makes major changes for his side’s meeting with Newcastle.

Fikayo Tomori should return to Milan’s back four after serving a suspension, but Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s midfield place could be under threat, with the former Chelsea midfielder having failed to hit the ground running since leaving Stamford Bridge in the summer. Loftus-Cheek was substituted for Yunus Musah in the closing stages of Saturday’s derby loss.

Leao will almost certainly keep his place on the left of AC Milan’s front three, and it is hard to see Pioli dropping his lead striker, Olivier Giroud. Christian Pulisic’s position on the right could be under threat though, with talented Nigerian Samuel Chukwueze pushing for a start.


Newcastle received an allocation of 4,000 away tickets for tomorrow’s game, with the away section at the San Siro quickly selling out, such was the clamour to be part of the club’s return to European football’s top table.

It is anticipated that a large number of ticketless fans will also be travelling to Milan, with flights from Newcastle and Manchester rising to sky-high prices as soon as the fixture schedule was confirmed.

Newcastle fans are expected to congregate in the canal-side Navigli district of Milan on matchday – bars and restaurants in the area have been actively courting the travelling contingent and marketing themselves as ‘fan friendly’ – before heading to the San Siro for the 6.45pm kick-off, Italian time.

As well as taking on Inter Milan under Sir Bobby Robson, Newcastle also played Inter in the San Siro during their Fairs Cup campaign in the 1970-71 season, with a goal from Wyn Davies earning a 1-1 draw.