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Newcastle United gatecrash Champions League aiming for statement win against AC Milan

One of the rarer joys of the Uefa Champions League, a competition in which those at the summit of the club game collide with such regularity that it can seem routine, is when a gatecrasher rolls into town. Better still if that outsider arrives sensing their unfamiliarity to the reigning elite may be a strength.

Newcastle United, preparing to play their first group-stage fixture in the Champions League for more than two decades, flew into Italy later than they might have Monday, the better to hide any clues about tactics or line-ups from prying eyes. They trained at home, not in San Siro, where they face AC Milan on Tuesday evening, before boarding their plane.

It means they can enter the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan’s fabled arena commonly known as the San Siro, hinting they have some secrets, a few surprises to unleash.

Not that Milan cannot be ambushed by opponents on whom the most thorough homework has been done. At the weekend, San Siro staged what was the fifth Milan derby of the calendar year – one in the Italian Super Cup, in Riyadh, another in Serie A and a two-legged European Cup tie in May – and the outcome, a win for Inter Milan, was the same as it has been throughout 2023.

Milan lost again to their neighbours, were once more confounded by a well-organised defence and Inter’s slick counter-attack. Only this time the scale of Saturday’s defeat exceeded the recent precedents: 5-1, an inauspicious lead-in for what is a formidably challenging Champions League group.

The Rossoneri made last season’s semi-finals but must regard progress into the knockouts this time as a tall order. To reach the last four in 2022/23, they needed to finish above RB Salzburg and Dinamo Zagreb and edge out Tottenham Hotspur over two