Eddie Howe has admitted he will be watching a Champions League game live in person for the first time on Tuesday night, when Newcastle play Milan at San Siro.
“I’ve never attended one, I’ve been too busy working,” the manager said after his team’s heavily delayed flight from Tyneside meant his pre‑match press conference had to be put back two hours until 9pm local time. “ So tomorrow night will be a proud moment.”
The good news for Howe is that the severe thunderstorms that brought torrential rain to Milan and left Newcastle’s charter flight stuck on the runway are expected to have given way to clear skies as the club return to Europe’s showpiece competition for the first time in 20 years. “The weather problems were no big issue,” Howe said. “It’s a slightly later arrival than we would have liked but we’re used to these sort of things.” Howe did miss Uefa’s deadline for the press conference, for which there may be repercussions.
Milan’s convalescence from their 5-1 thrashing by Internazionale last weekend was bolstered by a training‑ground pep talk from their visiting former Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic on Monday morning.
“It’s a different competition, a different day,” Howe said, emphasising he saw no grounds for false optimism as he prepares to become the first Newcastle manager since Sir Bobby Robson to lead the team into Champions League combat. “The start will be key. We have to be at our best.”
If Sven Botman – once a Milan target – and the rest of Howe’s defence are relieved not to be facing Ibrahimovic, Milan’s Stefano Pioli has warned his backline to be wary of the threat posed by Newcastle’s key strikers, Alexander Isak and Callum Wilson.
“Newcastle seem like a classic English team to me, with physicality and intensity,” Milan’s suddenly under pressure manager said. “Without neglecting their quality, they are very tall and dangerous on the dead balls.”
Significantly Pioli, whose own press conference was interrupted by a power cut, regards a group also including Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund as intriguingly even. “We know how tough it is,” he said. “Probably PSG have a slight advantage but it’s so evenly balanced that every point will count.”
Pioli suggested that Sandro Tonali, Newcastle’s £55m summer arrival from Milan, will receive a warm reception. “It will be exciting to see Tonali again,” he said. “Sandro was very important to us when we won the title last year so we will receive him with a lot of affection.”
Tonali said: “I’m going to feel the emotion. It’s hard because these emotions don’t happen all the time in football. They’re special and I’ll remember them forever. Milan is the team I support and the team that gave me a chance to succeed. I have to manage that but it won’t be a problem.”