Being back in the Champions League means absolutely everything to Newcastle fans. They’d been starved under the previous owner Mike Ashley. They just existed under his stewardship, they had no opportunity to get back to Europe’s top table.
Yes, they had that one season in the Europa League under Alan Pardew back in 2013 but that was a one-off – and it was seen by the hierarchy as something they didn’t want.
It was seen as a distraction from the league, and there was a feeling among supporters that all Ashley wanted was for them to stay in the Premier League and pick up the prize money every year.
It feels good for the fans to be back, they’re back at the top table and competing with some of the top clubs, and giving them a day out. The group includes some brilliant trips, Milan then Dortmund and Paris. It’s some great opportunities to watch the club play on the European stage with a real hope they can get through the group.
When the draw was made, it looked like a group of death – it looked difficult on paper, but all three squads are weaker than in previous years. PSG haven’t got Neymar or Lionel Messi, Dortmund haven’t got Jude Bellingham, Milan haven’t got Sandro Tonali.
I would say Newcastle are as good as, if not better, than Milan, but it’s about how they cope with the San Siro and the home fans, who as we all know are very volatile and can make things very difficult for away fans.
The fans will have a great time. They’ll outwardly say they’re just happy to be here, but they’ll want to make sure they get out of the group.
I took a wander down to one of the canals where the fans are earlier, and they’re having a whale of a time. It’s something they’ve missed for so long. Some of the top six and even the Scottish teams who are so used to getting into European competition can take it for granted – that won’t be the case for Newcastle.
They’ve got a generation of supporters here who have never seen them play in Europe before. It’s something new for them, and something to treasure.
I expect Eddie Howe to revert back to the tried and trusted on Tuesday. Callum Wilson played the full 90 minutes on Saturday in a 1-0 win. He trained on his own on Monday, and I expect Alexander Isak to come back in.
The back four picks itself, but there are a few positions which could be changed.
I think Tonali will come back in due to Joelinton’s injury, alongside Bruno Guimaraes and Sean Longstaff.
I think Miguel Almiron will replace Harvey Barnes on the right of the front three, as Eddie Howe goes back to his favoured players from the first few games of the season who did so well, particularly against Aston Villa.
They’ll miss Joelinton badly – his legs, energy and what he brings to the team – just as they’re missing Joe Willock. But this is why they bought the likes of Tonali and kept Longstaff. They’ve got options now and the squad is stronger than last season.
There are players like Kieran Trippier, who has played in a Champions League final, Guimaraes who has played in the competition for Lyon. But really, looking at the squad there’s a lot of players who haven’t.
Dan Burn, Longstaff, Wilson haven’t, neither Almiron nor Anthony Gordon. Yes, they’ll have others who have done it before, but it’s a new experience for many.
It’ll be interesting to see how they handle the occasion, something completely different to what they’re used to, a whole new challenge.
If Newcastle take a point, I think they’d be more than happy. It’ll be difficult on the back of Milan’s result at the weekend, and you can tell they are really desperate to make up for it. Stefano Pioli has said he owes an individual apology to each and every AC Milan fan – and he wants his players to go out and prove a point on Tuesday.
I don’t know if Newcastle are actually getting them at a good time. Yes, they won at the weekend, but it’s not as free-flowing as last season – and it feels like they need a bit longer to get up to speed.
A win would be unbelievable, and leaving with a point would be more than acceptable. But with the stadium, the atmosphere and the result at the weekend, Milan will be favourites to spoil Newcastle’s Champions League return.