Newcastle face might of AC Milan with Champions League hopes on knife edge

Magpies must avoid defeat if they want to keep this season's European adventure alive

Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe alongside Brazilian duo Bruno Guimaraes, right, and Joelinton during training ahead of their Champions League clash with AC Milan. PA
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Newcastle United's rollercoaster Champions League group-stage ride reaches its final twist on Wednesday when the Premier League side play host to AC Milan at St James' Park.

Drawn in the "Group of Death" alongside Ligue 1 title-holders Paris Saint-Germain, Bundesliga runners-up Borussia Dortmund and seven-time European champions Milan, the Magpies head into the game on Tyneside with their European hopes on a knife edge.

Dortmund have already secured their passage through to the last-16 but for the other three clubs, a nervous night awaits.

Newcastle will finish as runners-up and seal their knockout stage spot if they defeat the Rossoneri and PSG fail to win against Dortmund in Germany.

If the Magpies and PSG win – or Newcastle draw – then Eddie Howe's side switch to the Europa League play-offs and their European adventure continues, albeit having dropped down a tier. Lose, and their first Champions League campaign in two decades is over.

“It would be an incredible achievement if we could do it, we can't transport ourselves there,” said Howe in Tuesday's press conference. “We can only look to do it. We have to get our focus right, we can't be distracted by what’s done elsewhere.

“We have worked so hard to be in this position in the first place. Our intention, myself, the players, the coaching staff is to win the match.

“I think probably to be here with some kind of destiny in our hands, with European football in our hands … It's got all the hallmarks of being a special game.

“All we can do is try to give our best performance, we will try everything. We want to make this a magical European night.”

When the teams met at the San Siro in their opening Group F match, Newcastle were relieved to come away from Italy with a goalless draw after a nervy and underwhelming performance spent almost entirely on the back foot.

The Serie A side had 25 attempts on goal to Newcastle's six and the away team were indebted to the heroics of goalkeeper Nick Pope – out injured for Wednesday's return game – and a Herculean defensive effort.

“It could be a vital point,” said Howe after the match, which has proven to be the case heading into the final round of games.

After that came one of the greatest nights in the club's European history when PSG and Kylian Mbappe were blown away 4-1 on a fever-pitch night at St James' Park when local boys Dan Burn – also now out injured – and Sean Longstaff were among the goals.

Milan 0 Newcastle 0: Player ratings

And Howe admitted the team will need more of that ferocious home backing on Wednesday. “We're going to need every voice, everyone can make a difference for us,” he said.

“That’s been the fitting for our home form, the fans have driven us on and they’ve given us the ability to keep going, so we're going to need that tomorrow.

“Being under the lights here is very special with something to play for and everything to gain. I think were looking forward to try to prove ourselves in our performances.”

After falling to back-to-back defeats against a streetwise Dortmund outfit, Newcastle were cruelly denied their own win double when a controversial Mbappe penalty snatched a point for PSG at Parc des Princes.

“We still believe,” stated Howe in Paris and they will need to maintain that belief to have any chance of keeping their European dream alive despite the team taking some body blows of late.

They go up against Milan having suffered two heavy Premier League defeats – 3-0 at Everton and 4-1 at Tottenham Hotspur – maintaining a miserable away record this season of just one win on their travels all campaign.

While their home record remains as good as their away one is bad – they have lost only twice at St James' Park, against Liverpool and Dortmund – the shadow of a horrendous injury crisis looms large over the squad.

The same 10 outfield players have started the last five games and the lack of options off the bench has left those still standing dealing with a punishing schedule with little respite.

While striker Callum Wilson and midfielder Sean Longstaff made welcome returns from injury in North London, Howe admitted at the weekend that he will have to be “very careful” with the pair who are “not 100 per cent fit”.

Updated: December 13, 2023, 7:16 AM