Champions League Group Stage • AC Milan-Newcastle United FC: Remorse

Every reporter, pundit, podcaster, and more will be talking about Tonali for this matchup. Normally, I would avoid such an overhyped narrative, but let's be fair – as Milan fans, Tonali is still in our hearts and minds ahead of this game. Seeing him back at the San Siro but wearing different colors will be difficult, and he is a warrior, he will not hold back, either. Meanwhile, his former position in Milan's squad is like an open wound. Even for those who have emotionally healed from his exit, we are a long way from healing tactically from his loss. While Newcastle fans are learning to be fans of an elite club with their return to the Champions League, the big question is... which team benefits most from his move? Will his presence be enough to give Newcastle an important away win and make Milan regret their choice? Or will Milan demonstrate that their Champions League DNA can overcome a team that was purchased by Saudi Arabia for the sake of sportswashingwith limitless funding? At the end of this match, more than likely, at least one of Tonali's teams will have remorse.

The hope is for Milan to have no remorse after this one.

The last time Newcastle played in the Group Stage of the Champions League was the 2002-03 season, but they qualified this year with an impressive fourth place finish in the Premier League. Their history in this competition is actually very limited, having only first appeared in the 1997-98 season, with their best finish as third place in the round of 16. They have only ever played 24 Champions League matches in all, so have a disadvantage in terms of experience. They also face the daunting task of trying to qualify for the knockout rounds from Group F, coined the "Group of Death," which also contains French side PSG and German side Borussia Dortmund.

Eddie Howe sees his team come into this match sitting in 11th place in the Premier League table, having won two matches and lost three. To be fair, two of those losses were to Manchester City and Liverpool, but the Magpies are coming into this match from a tedious 1-0 win over Brentford on Saturday that was finally decided with a penalty. For that match, Howe lined up: Pope; Trippier, Schär, Botman, Burn; Longstaff, Guimarães, Anderson; Gordon, Wilson, and Barnes. As of this writing, Howe will be missing both Joseph Willock and Joelinton to injury

When you're caught cheating on your ex...

Tonali is fit and was available on Saturday, but was clearly rested. Whether or not he will start at the San Siro remains to be seen. He had an audacious start at St. James' Park, scoring just six minutes into his first match, which was also Newcastle's only other win thus far. He won over Newcastle fans immediately and was their player of the month for August, although he has a long season ahead of him to prove he is worth the €64 million they paid for him. 

That €64 million was reinvested by Milan, as well as an additional €70 million, in a complete overhaul of the squad. That did not seem to have helped at all, in fact the wholesale changes may have actually hurt the team, as we saw in the soul-annihilating 5-1 Derby loss on Saturday. Many criticized Pioli for having lost five straight Derbies to Inter this calendar year, saying he did not change tactics. But actually, he did change tactics, most traumatically memorably in the February league match, although I completely understand why people want to forget that one. It seemed pretty clear on Saturday that the new signings were wholly unprepared for a match like this, and still need time to settle in, as Pioli predicted they would all along.

Like Theo and Giroud, Pulisic knows what it is like to win it all.

The good news is that at least many of the new signings have Champions League experience. And Tuesday, they will be playing with the support of a Milan home crowd at San Siro. Speaking of Champions League experience, Milan returned to the Champions League two seasons ago after a nine year absence, ironically also in the Group of Death that season. However, this past season saw the Rossoneri make it all the way to the semifinals. Milan have won the Champions League seven times, and played a staggering 267 Champions League matches in contrast to Newcastle's meager 24 matches. Milan have not only experience, but claim Champions League DNA.

The hope is that, despite it being this early in the season, some of that DNA has been transferred to some of the new arrivals. Milan come into this match having slipped to third place in Serie A, with three wins and a loss. After that brutal loss on Saturday, Pioli has some difficult decisions to make from his squad list for his lineups. He will obviously be missing Bennacer and also Kalulu to injury, but will have Tomori back in defense after serving a one match suspension on Saturday.

Milan will be looking toward the core players for shining moments like this.

Many speculate that he will start Chukwueze ahead of Pulisic on the right wing, as the American had the latest international match and return to Milano of the starters, and could still be fatigued, but Pioli is known for being quite stubborn with his starting 11. One definite change will be starting Tomori ahead of Kjaer, who would likely struggle with that many minutes in consecutive matches. Any other diversions from his preferred starters would merely come down to fitness or fatigue, so expect: Maignan; Calabria, Thiaw, Tomori, Theo Hernández; Loftus-Cheek, Krunić, Reijnders; Pulisic, Giroud, Rafa Leão.

Perhaps the first three Serie A matches against easier opponents had lulled Milan fans into a false sense of security surrounding this refurbished Milan side, aided by a huge helping of gaslighting from Cardinale in last week's interview (aka "Berlusconi 2.0.") But realistically, we were always going to concede goals this season, merely based on the way that Cardinale and Friends chose to reinforce. One of the biggest reasons is, ironically, the loss of Tonali to Newcastle. Seeing him on the opposing team is going to be incredibly surreal, but all we can hope for is that at the final whistle, it is not Milan who are left filled with remorse.

This post inspired by the music of The Smiths' "Back to the Old House"

Our next match is 
Champions League Group Stage
AC Milan vs. Newcastle United F.C. 
Tuesday, September 19, 2023 • 18:45 CEST (12:45pm EDT)
In the U.S., you can use a VPN to access a Champions League provider elsewhere*
(*one that does not also sponsor Inter's kits)

Champions League Group Stage • AC Milan-Newcastle United FC: Remorse Champions League Group Stage • AC Milan-Newcastle United FC: Remorse Reviewed by Elaine on 6:00 AM Rating: 5
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