Newcastle head into the new season – and a new era – with a lot of unknowns, and huge questions to answer, amid a back-drop of fan discontent and the looming threat of protests and boycotts.
But just how will the season turn out? And will Newcastle still be a top flight side when May comes around?
Of course, the biggest change is in the dugout. The adored Rafa Benitez is no more, with Steve Bruce seen by Lee Charnley and Mike Ashley as the man to be given the unenviable task of following him.
Fans are underwhelmed, which has just increased the vitriol aimed at the club’s derided owner. Many have refused to attend St James’ Park this season until Ashley has gone.
Bruce has been asked the question about fans’ unrest numerous times, and he has tried to straight-bat answers. The point is, the protests are not aimed at him, but at those above him.
He will need to have a good start, as fans’ patience will not last as long for him as they did for his Spanish predecessor.
The new signings
Newcastle’s transfer business looks rushed, and had they got their off-field issues sorted sooner, they could have taken more time over priority targets – assuming that some of those through the St James’ Park door were not that from the outset.
But the business they have done has addressed most of the areas that needed addressing, although with none of the signings – other than free-agent Andy Carroll – having any Premier League experience, it is a gamble.
Joelinton stole most of the headlines with his Newcastle transfer record fee, and the responsibility of goals will largely rest on his shoulders. But it is his new teammate, Allan Saint-Maximin, who could turn out to be the fan-favourite.
He has a lot of the Hatem Ben Arfas about him, and is sure to be someone to get the fans who choose not to boycott, off their seats with his trickery and flair.
More defensive flexibility
Full-back was another area that was a concern for Benitez throughout his spell at the club, and finally it has been addressed on both flanks.
Dutchman Jetro Willems and Swedish international Emil Krafth, will provide stern competition to DeAndre Yedlin, Javier Manquillo and Paul Dummett – who have had it too easy in the past.
It bodes well for the season to have proper depth at a problematic position, and the extra choices should open the door to a range of varying formations to be utilised when necessary.
Does another relegation battle loom?
This is a tough question to answer.
With yet another hellish start to the season in the opening 10 games, it is hard to see Newcastle not being in the nether regions of the table by the beginning of October.
But after that, fixtures look a bit more winnable, and with the options that Newcastle now have, it should see them ease away from the relegation spots.
Of course, if the majority of the new signings do not get to grips with the Premier League, and struggle for form and confidence, it could all go horribly wrong.
But this is where Bruce will have to prove he has what it takes to ‘do a Rafa’ and pull them up by their bootlaces and make them believe in themselves.
It will be a tough season – as it always seems to be – but I expect Newcastle to ensure relative Premier League safety by the new year, and hopefully have a more relaxing second half of the season to other years.
Call me an optimist, and time will tell, but as ever, we start the season expecting the worst, but hoping for the best.
Howay the Lads!