The players that needed to go, the players that needed to stay, the players that still need to go…the Newcastle United questions we are all asking.

Answering these and a host of other questions about our Championship challenge, we have writer Travis Bickle giving his thoughts on Newcastle United and how ready they are to do the business in the next nine months.

The players that have come in?

There’s always a tendency to think that new signings are going to be brilliant – we’ll have a better idea after a few competitive games – but they look as if they might be fine.

The players who have left?

Shame about Townsend but that was always going to happen.

Wijnaldum – I’m not sorry to see him go, and for £25m I think that (once again) we’ve robbed Liverpool. He flattered to deceive – looked like a good player, but how often did he actually make a difference?

For me he was what in cricket they would call a ‘flat track bully’ – someone who has impressive stats because he does really well when the going is easy, but when the chips are down and the pressure is on he goes missing.

As for Coloccini, Cisse and (hopefully) Tiote, they all needed to go. It’s not long since I was spouting off to anyone who would listen saying there was no way we would be able to shift those players – that they would sit there and draw their wage packets till their contracts expired…and now they’re gone/going – somebody (whether it’s Benitez or Charnley, or both, I don’t know) has played a blinder.

This first team compared to Championship one of 2009/10?

It’s an interesting question. Before giving any thought I would have said that we were stronger this time around – but having looked a bit further into it and refreshed my memory about last time round, I think probably our strongest 11 then was better, but our squad this time is better

Harper – I’d probably pick him over any of the current candidates (though we haven’t seen much of Sels or Darlow really so it’s guesswork)

Defence – Simpson, Enrique, Coloccini, Williamson/Taylor. Enrique and the Coloccini of that era would be in my all-time NUFC 11, Simpson was a canny player, and even Taylor and Williamson were ok in the Championship. So on the whole I think that defence is stronger than the current one

Midfield – Smith, Guthrie, Gutierrez, Nolan (they’re the 4 midfield players with the most appearances that year). The Gutierrez and Nolan of 2009 would walk into the current first team, but the other two wouldn’t – so even stevens.

Attack – Carroll, Lovenkrands/Ameobi. Carroll came into his own that year and although I’m a fan of Mitrovic I think you would pick Carroll in front of him. On the other hand my favourite player from the current crop – Ayoze Perez – is a better player than anything we had in 2009.

If I was picking a combined first 11 it would probably be:

Harper, Simpson, Enrique, Coloccini, Mbemba, Colback/Hayden, Nolan, Gutierrez, Ritchie, Perez, Carroll – so on that count, 2009 wins 7-4.

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Current squad v 2009/10 one?

Looking at the players from 2009 who played more than say 5 games, but weren’t mentioned before – Fitz Hall, Joey Barton, Marlon Harewood, Wayne Routledge, Khizanishvili, van Aanholt, Ryan Taylor, Leon Best, Tamas Kadar.

The only ones out of that list I would want in the current squad would be Barton, Ryan Taylor and maybe Routledge. In 2009 we were lucky in getting lots of games out of key members of the team like Nolan and Coloccini – but there wasn’t much strength in depth behind them, and some of the players getting the odd start and on the subs bench weren’t much cop.

So, yeah, I’d probably take the best 11 from 2009 over today’s lot, but our squad now looks stronger. And also, memories of the 2009 squad are coloured by the fact that they won the league. If we have a good season this time around, I would hope that in nine months’ time we’ll be raving about players who have come to the fore this time round – maybe Aarons, Mitrovic, Armstrong, Sterry, Hayden, Gamez. Who knows.

Mike Ashley turns over new leaf or simply desperately realising he had to agree to Rafa’s demands to prevent total disaster?

I’ve generally been pretty critical of Mr Ashley. I wouldn’t forgive him for what he did to King Kev, and over a period of years he has been an almost unmitigated disaster.

However, I think he may have turned over a new leaf. I’ve always thought that one of the key problems with Ashley has been that he has held the manager and his role in contempt. I suspect that Ashley has thought, since the day Keegan walked out the door, that the manager was nothing but a mouthpiece. He didn’t put boots on and go out on the field, all he did was pick a team and spout the party line. And as a result Ashley has always looked for his managers in the bargain bin.

Chris Hughton was a good man and a good manager – but he ended up in the job almost by accident.

Pardew was a glorified second-hand car salesman.

Kinnear, Carver, McClaren – well they were just idiots.

But the appointment of Rafa, and in particular the fact that they made the effort to keep him after relegation, is the best thing that has happened to our club since…. Well, for a long time.

The most tantalising thing is that it would be so easy for Mike Ashley to turn himself from zero into hero. He’s one of the richest men in the country. If he backs Rafa for a couple of years, great things could happen.

Six key players this coming season?

Up the middle of the pitch – Lascelles, Mbemba, Shelvey, whoever they buy to replace Sissoko, Perez, Mitrovic

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Other players you’d still like to see leave?

Sissoko – please. I can’t stand him. If nobody’s prepared to buy him I’d send him on loan to Gateshead just to get him out of the way and let the stink clear up.

Toite, Thauvin.

Riviere – it’s too much to hope that anyone else would be daft enough to have him.

De Jong – he’s sooo slow (even when he is fit). It’s like watching someone play in slow motion while everyone else is at full speed.

How would you rate your enthusiasm as a Newcastle fan at this moment (compared to recent seasons) and are you planning on going to matches?

I’m as excited about the new season as I have been for a long time.

I feel like maybe we’re getting our club back. For me the Ashley years have been lost years but I think it’s all about to change – happy days are here again!

Any positions that Newcastle still definitely need to strengthen in transfer market?

No – just replace players who leave.

Survive in Premier League with McClaren or Championship with Rafa?

Championship with Rafa.

Percentage chance of finishing as Champions this season and percentage chance of just getting promotion?

Champions -100% (Mind you, last season my pre-season prediction was for us to finish 6th and Leicester to finish bottom!).

Rafa Benitez?

The really good times at Newcastle only come when the club and the fans are all right behind the manager.

It’s only happened a few times since I started watching in the mid 70s – but when it does – the power is unleashed!

King Kev, Sir Bobby…..I’m hoping that in due course we’ll be coming up with a royal title for Rafa.

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