Will this Newcastle United squad be fit for purpose when the Premier League kicks off?
It is now only 13 days until the summer transfer window closes and the picture is becoming a little clearer, as to who Rafa Benitez will need to rely on.
So far we have seen Mikel Merino, Jack Colback, Chancel Mbemba, and Matz Sels, all move out. Aleksandar Mitrovic looks set to follow, whilst Isaac Hayden is desperate to move back down south, with then the likes of Achraf Lazaar and Henri Saivet needing to find new clubs as Rafa sees no future for them at NUFC.
As for incoming, Martin Dubravka has made his move permanent, Kenedy here on another loan spell, with free transfer Ki Sung-yueng arriving after being released by Swansea. Centre-back Fabian Schar arrived on Thursday, with an agreement in principle in place to sign Japanese striker Yoshinori Muto from Mainz.
So how is it looking for you?
In two weeks time will the squad be stronger or weaker than last season, or pretty much the same?
I think the obvious thing to point out, is that just like last summer, there has been no giant leap forward.
Rafa Benitez once again having to look around for bargains and whereas the cash available last summer without selling players first, was minimal, this time it is seemingly non-existent.
It is most definitely Groundhog Day (Groundhog Window?), last summer when Rafa was forced into bargain basement shopping, fans then were left with conflicting thoughts on the new arrivals. Hoping for the best but fearing the worst.
You always hope Newcastle can pick up a bargain, and we have had a number of them in the past, but reality is that continually looking for bargains is no long-term strategy for success.
Bottom line last season, of the six summer 2017 signings, only one of them (Florian Lejuene) was a regular in the team when they hit form from February to mid-April.
Of those other five, Mikel Merino has now left and I can’t believe anybody would be upset if the other four left and we attempted to trade for better. Atsu, Manquillo, Joselu and Murphy are not Premier League first team players, which is surely what we hope to sign…when we are in the Premier League?
The current conversations are exactly the same as a year ago, although to an extent the Newcastle supporters are a bit more worldly-wise after seeing what has happened since Rafa Benitez led the squad to promotion.
Yes we are all hoping that players such as Ki Sung-yueng, Fabian Schar and Yoshinori Muto can all prove surprise packages but to claim any of them are likely to prove far better than what Newcastle currently have, you would have to be drinking heavily from the bottle of blind positivity.
This is most definitely a case of Rafa Benitez getting bodies in, rather than significantly improving the starting eleven.
Just like last summer, the manager is having to use the meagre funds to try and ensure there is competition in all areas of the team, that if anybody is injured it is not a disaster in terms of the drop in quality.
The big positives have been retaining Martin Dubravka and Kenedy.
However, we have to accept that this is a massive challenge for the goalkeeper to repeat that dozen game form on loan, over an entire Premier League season. He turns 30 in January and had spent his whole career in the weak Slovakian, Danish and Czech leagues, there is so much responsibility on him this time and with the team not being strengthened in front of him, he will no doubt be seeing plenty of action.
As for Kenedy, it is ironic that if Mike Ashley had allowed Rafa Benitez this one £20m buy, I reckon many (most?) fans would pretty much be seeing this as a successful window, up to a point anyway. By buying that one player it would have indicated that there was at least some interest in the owner allowing some foundations to be laid for the future, rather than us knowing that if Kenedy plays well this season for NUFC, there will be then zero chance of signing him next summer, with Newcastle once again starting from scratch in terms of improving the team.
Rather than going on the attack, this transfer window very much smacks of Rafa Benitez being forced to build up the defences, get men on the barricades, as he rallies his troops once again to try and fight off relegation.
Sadly, unless we see the back of Mike Ashley, it will not only be a case of starting from scratch again in terms of player recruitment, we will instead also all be facing the horror of a more typical Ashley appointment ‘in charge’ of the squad.