It only seems five minutes ago that Newcastle United secured fifth spot in the Premier League but today sees the Magpies return to action as they kick off their pre-season campaign.
After holding his first press conference of the season on Wednesday, manager Alan Pardew will now take his side to Germany as their preparations for the coming season begin to intensify.
In a pre-season programme which sees Newcastle face some of Europe’s regulars, it’s Chemnitzer of the German third division that will provide the first test for Pardew’s men when they meet at the Stadion an der Gellertstrasse on Friday evening.
After becoming the first manager to deliver a top five finish on Tyneside since Sir Bobby Robson, nobody will be more aware than the Magpies boss himself of the expectancy that now follows his side. With that comes excitement though, which makes this the most anticipated season at Newcastle in recent years.
Having qualified for Europe for the first time in six seasons, the Geordie faithful are eagerly anticipating new faces to bolster an increasingly-thin squad. The arrivals of Romain Amalfitano and Gael Bigirimana show the Magpies have one eye on the future, but with several departures already this summer supporters were hoping for more fresh blood before pre-season activity got underway.
The release of Alan Smith, Danny Guthrie and Peter Lovenkrands, plus the sale of Leon Best to Blackburn Rovers, indicates Newcastle are working on a number of targets to add to their ranks. Transfer dealings require a great amount of patience from all involved and interested, but recent history shows the Magpies fans can trust the current regime to attract the right names to Tyneside – even if it takes longer than most would like.
Following this Friday’s meeting in Chemnitz, Newcastle return to friendly action on Monday when they face AS Monaco in Landsberg al Lech. This clash will provide Pardew with a clearer indication as to the steady progress his squad is making, with the improvement of sharpness and match-fitness the focus at this early stage.
Newcastle then travel to Hungary where they meet Turkish outfit Fenerbahce on Saturday 21 July, before jetting to Portugal to compete in the Guadiana Torneo at the Algarve Stadium.
After Pardew revealed on Wednesday he hopes to make at least one new signing “over the next 14 days”, this tournament could be the first opportunity for Newcastle fans to see the new faces they crave. United face Greek side Olympiakos on Friday 27 July, before testing themselves against SC Braga of Portugal the following day.
Newcastle’s final pre-season clash is a little closer to home, with Cardiff City the hosts on Saturday 11 August.
Return of the Premier League
After a brief excursion in the Welsh capital, Pardew’s squad will return to Tyneside as they begin for their Premier League opener at home to Tottenham Hostpur on 18 August.
There’s a much improved feeling that surrounds Newcastle in comparison to that of twelve months ago. With some labelling Pardew’s side as relegation candidates this time last year, Magpies fans are now confidently looking up the table rather than down as they plan their assault on another top flight campaign.
The return of European football to Tyneside adds another element to what will already be a challenging season. The stress a Europa League campaign can have on a squad can be detrimental to domestic success. However, if Newcastle desire to remain a permanent fixture with the league’s elite then it is hurdles such as these they must overcome.
In little over five weeks’ time United will host Spurs in a meeting of two sides that share similar aspirations. After being edged out of a top four finish by the north-Londoners last season this clash provides Newcastle with the opportunity to show their intentions for the coming campaign, and prove that last season’s success was only the beginning of a bright new era on Tyneside.