Can Newcastle United repeat last season feats and challenge once again for Champions League football?
Last Season: 5th
In: Romain Amalfitano (free transfer, Amalfitano), Gael Bigirimana (£1.1m, Coventry City), Curtis Good (£450,000, Melbourne Heart FC)
Out: Danny Guthrie (free transfer, Reading FC), Leon Best (£3.3m, Blackburn Rovers), Peter Lovenkrands (free transfer, Birmingham City), Alan Smith (free transfer, MK Dons), Tamas Kadar (free transfer, Roda JC Kerkrade), Fraser Forster (£2.2m, Celtic)
If they were an Olympian: Mo Farah. Always had potential, finally enjoying success, owe much to African influences.
It is hard to see how Newcastle can improve on last season's 5th place finish. It is hard to envisage Chelsea having as poor a season as last term, whilst Tottenham and Arsenal have strengthened and Liverpool surely cannot be as inconsistent again. Not that this will bother Alan Pardew, as the Newcastle boss is nothing if not confident and will point to the fact that he will have players such as Hatem Ben Arfa, and last season's revelation Papiss Demba Cisse, available from the start.
The key for the Magpies is to try and repeat last season where they suffered remarkably few long term injuries. Fabricio Coloccini, Yohan Cabaye, Danny Simpson, Jonas Gutierrez, Demba Ba and Tim Krull all started over 30 Premier League games, whilst Chiek Tiote only missed out on account of the Ivory Coast's African Cup of Nations campaign.
With the added rigours of the Europa League this season, Pardew will have to make use of his relatively small squad. Newcastle will be hurt by the fact that African Nations Cup takes place again in January 2013 as the competition moves from even to odd-numbered years. This will cause the absence of Tiote, Cisse and Ba for a period which means Newcastle will be particularly short up front, especially with the departures of Peter Lovenkrands and Leon Best to Birmingham and Blackburn respectively.
Perhaps this explains why the club are continuing to pursue Andy Carroll and whilst talk of the move has been dampened lately expect plenty of last minute speculation as the transfer window draws to a close.
The club face a tough start to the season with the Magpies facing Tottenham, Chelsea and Everton in their first four fixtures. However St. James' will continue to be a ground that few teams enjoy visiting, with last seasons good form leading to regular full houses at one of England's most atmospheric grounds. Many of Newcastle's best results last term actually came on the road as with forwards like Ben Arfa, Ba and Cisse they were devastating on the break, with the 2-0 win at Chelsea one of the teams best performances of the season.
There was much speculation that Demba Ba would leave, with a clause in his contract requiring only a £7m bid to secure the Sengalese's service. However the deadline for this clause has passed and Ba looks set to stay at Newcastle. So far there have been no bids for any of the clubs other stars and unless exceptional bids come in for the likes of Cabaye and Tiote it looks promising for a club who have seen a number of key performers depart in recent years.
Newcastle's realistic prospects for this season are probably limited to trying to retain a top six position and challenging in European and domestic competitions. The Magpies will be many people's dark horses to win one of the two domestic competitions and end the club's 42 year long wait for a major trophy.
Predicted Finish: 7th (Carling cup winners)
Key Man: Cheik Tiote. Whilst not possessing the passing range of Yohan Cabaye nor the flair of Hatem Ben Arfa, Tiote is the glue that holds the Newcastle midfield together. Ferocious in the tackle and as strong as an ox, it is no wonder that Chelsea and Manchester United have looked at the Ivorian.
Underrated: Mike Williamson. When Steven Taylor limped off against Chelsea in December, many thought that it would be the start of a decline for Newcastle. In stepped Mike Williamson, who had spent the majority of his career in the lower leagues. Rather than being a liability, Williamson was outstanding alongside Fabricio Coloccini as Newcastle continued their push for a Champions League spot till the last day.
Watch out for: Romain Amalfitano. Signed back in May on a Bosman from Riems, Amalfitano continues the "French revolution" that has occurred on Tyneside, as he joins 10 other French or French-speaking players at St. James' Park. Comfortable on the left, right or through the middle, Amalfitano has plenty of promise but has never played top flight football, having only ever played in Ligue 2. The Frenchman does have a penchant for scoring goals from 40 yards out.