Newcastle United FC 1, AC Milan 2: Mutating Milan's DNA

The Champions League group of death saw Dortmund, with an annual wagebill of €127 million, go through at the top of the group. In second place for the Round of 16 was PSG, who have an annual wagebill of €291 million. Milan, with a wagebill of only €86 million annually, managed a 2-1 win over Newcastle, who have an annual wagebill of €98 million. (All wages according to In that sense, perhaps Milan overachieved just slightly, being the team with the lowest wagebill in the group. However, Milan's DNA is in the Champions League. For Gerry Cardinale's reference, since he has not really kept up with these things, Milan have never won the Europa League. Considering all he has done this year to remove the Milan from Milan, it definitely seems that this new owner and management are tangibly mutating Milan's DNA.

Not even any recognizable Milan DNA from last year's Champions League run here.

The first half was intense, with the volume at St. James' Park reportedly so loud, Pioli struggled to be able to communicate with his players. Some Milan fans were disappointed with Milan's performance in the first half, but it must be pointed out that Newcastle were playing at 120% in that first half as well, and it was difficult for Milan to find any kind of rhythm or even possession with the opposition's efforts. That included Lascelles' overt physicality with Giroud, like elbowing him in the back of the head like he did in the eighth minute, although apparently referee Danny Makkelie did not feel that was card-worthy.

Gratefully, most of Newcastle's efforts were not on target. Until the 20th minute, when it seemed that Maignan was beaten. But no, Tomori was there with an epic goal line clearance. It is said that England manager Gareth Southgate was in the stands, but I wonder if he remembers that Tomori is English? Certainly after Tomori's overall appearance, he deserves not only an England call up but also a starting berth, but Southgate rarely rewards excellent performances.

Tomori saved the day.

After that, Milan had a good chance when Rafa Leão got a shot across the face of the goal, but unfortunately, it went wide. Maignan was also brilliant in this match, making another save on Almirón just two minutes later. However, in the 33rd minute, the goal that seemed to be coming all along finally did. Joelinton scored from the top of the box, and there wasn't anything anyone could do about it. 1-0 Newcastle. 

Suddenly, everything seemed to be going Newcastle's way. After not carding Lascelles for a very aggressive series of fouls on Giroud, Makkelie showed Leão a yellow card for some unintentional contact with Almirón in the 40th minute. Then, in stoppage time, Maignan was fouled by Joelinton, and while Makkelie did eventually call the foul, he did not give a card, for which Maignan was not happy about, and he let the referee know as much using his outside voice. That also earned him a yellow card. Not only that, but at that point, Dortmund were ahead in their match, which meant that at halftime, Newcastle thought they were into the Champions League Round of 16.

Leão had a big chance in the first half, but it went just wide.

Oh, how quickly things can change. After taking a few shots from Newcastle, Milan finally found their footing in the second half. A well-worked goal that came from a cross sent in from Leão, with an assist by Giroud, and a finish by Pulisic saw Milan equalize in the 59th minute. VAR reviewed the goal, and it stood. 1-1 all. To show you what kind of competitor Leão is, he reportedly ran straight to the bench after the goal to check on the Dortmund-PSG score so he knew what they needed to do. I love that.

Newcastle reacted, Howe made a couple of good substitutions, and Lascelles continued to make his defensive efforts with Giroud more WWE, and less football, which somehow did not bother referee Makkelie. In the 69th minute, Bruno Guimarães had a great shot on target, forcing Maignan into a massive save that made UEFA's highlight reel. More subs from Howe, and Pioli made a couple of substitutions as well. He brought on Jović for Pulisic and Pobega for Loftus-Cheek. 

Pulisic equalized and then encouraged the traveling Milan fans.

A few weeks ago, bringing Jović on might have seemed like a nightmare, but since he hit the woodwork against Dortmund, he is two for two in Serie A, and has really come into form. That said, he has also earned a yellow in every match since then, and this match was no exception, with him cautioned in the 78th minute for a foul on Schär. But he did help improve the momentum of the match, as evidenced when Leão hit the post in the 79th.

In the 80th, Musah was shown a yellow card for a foul on Isak. Then Pioli made his second set of impact substitutions, bringing on Chukwueze for Musah and Okafor for the embattled Giroud in the 83rd minute. And not even one minute later, Okafor assisted Chukwueze for his second ever Milan goal to take the lead. 2-1 Milan. Both of Chukwueze's goals have been in the Champions League, both within minutes of him taking the pitch. That is my kind of impact sub.

Chukwueze and Okafor made an instant impact and won the game for Milan.

Theo had a chance when Dúbravka was out of his goal, but he was unable to take advantage of it. Had he scored that one, it would have been beautiful (but there was a defender back, anyway.) In the 88th minute, Pioli, realizing we needed to hold onto the lead, remembered that Bartesaghi existed. I was glad to see him get a few minutes when he came on for Leão. In keeping up with our poor disciplinary record, Florenzi got the fifth and final yellow card for Milan in the 90th minute. In stoppage time, Tomori actually hit the post just as Leão had done earlier. 

Like all of our other Champions League matches, we could have scored so many more goals, but were simply unable to. To be fair, though, there were only two Milan shots on target in this one, and both of them were converted. How much of that had to do with Newcastle missing their first goalkeeper, Nick Pope, we may never know. But with these two goals, that brought Milan's entire group stage tally up to five goals scored. Hardly the kind of record for a team with Champions League DNA.

Pioli has weathered many a storm, but will he still be in charge when we play our playoff round?

By finishing in third place, Milan drop to the Europa League playoff round. We find out our opponents on Monday, when the draw is held in Nyon. Amongst the potential opponents is the other Redbird-owned team, Toulouse. This potential draw is UEFA's nightmare scenario, and why they were going to block one of the teams from competing in Europe in the first place. Cardinale removed himself and other duplicate board members from Toulouse's board of directors earlier this year to try to appease UEFA, but if the teams are drawn together on Monday, it will test UEFA's multi-team ownership ruling.

Milan have never taken this route in the Europa League before. But they have never been owned by a clueless American owner with an investment banker as a CEO, either. For how this team is built, perhaps the Europa League is a more appropriate level of competition anyway. However, with the injury and other problems this season, it does seem to be a lot more games without as much financial reward. We also risk Milan's ability to qualify for the Champions League next season by stretching the squad in Serie A, where they absolutely need to finish in the top four.

Maignan came up big again, but will he renew his contract with this management?

The one good thing about Milan going through to at least the Europa League is that with the changes in format to the Champions League next year, two nations have the chance to capture a fifth spot in the highest tier of European competition. That is determined by the results in European competitions this year, and had Milan finished fourth, it would have damaged Serie A's chances of earning that spot. Instead, Milan continuing in the Europa League helped push Serie A to the top of the list at this point. That could reciprocally prove helpful to Milan, because it would mean that there could be a fifth Champions League spot available to qualify for next year.

It is difficult to be excited about playing in the Europa League given the struggles thus far this season. Group F was definitely the most difficult group, as evidenced by the fact that at one point, Newcastle were at the top of the group, and they finished at the bottom. But it is very painful for Milan to have not progressed at least to the Round of 16. After Maldini's revealing comments two weeks ago, it is clear that the changes made at the club are why we are in this position, which just makes it that much more agonizing. It feels like a lab experiment gone wrong, as if someone is mutating Milan's DNA.

This post inspired by the music of Muse's "Stockholm Syndrome"

Our next match is 
Serie A Week 16
Milan vs. Monza
Sunday, December 17, 2023 • 12:30 CET (6:30am EST)

Newcastle United FC 1, AC Milan 2: Mutating Milan's DNA Newcastle United FC 1, AC Milan 2: Mutating Milan's DNA Reviewed by Elaine on 11:55 PM Rating: 5
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