Newcastle season preview: Why Pardew faces his toughest job ever to lift the gloom at St James' Park

The Premier League kicks off this weekend and we've got the Daily Mirror's top football writers to give you their thoughts on the new season. Today Simon Bird assesses Newcastle's chances.

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Prospects for 2011/12
Gloomy and confused if the mood on Tyneside is any indication.

The pessimism is with good justification after a summer of discontent.

From dressing room unity and purpose this time last year, Newcastle touched on chaos and acrimony in recent weeks.

Firstly, few on Tyneside believe their squad is strong enough to mount a strong top ten challenge. Signing a new striker and left back this week would lift hopes.

The suspicion is that owner Mike Ashley simply wants to make the club break even financially, with as little outlay as possible, as long as it stays in the Premier League.

Where is the hope to cling to for the 50,000 fans in that? Boss Alan Pardew and his players have to find the answer on a budget.

One question has loomed. When is the £30million lump sum banked from selling Andy Carroll going to be spent?

Answer: it probably already has if you use the club’s catch-all phrase of including “wages and fees” in the sums.

United lost out on the top ten last season on the final day, but can they better that after this summer's shenanigans?

Joey Barton tweeted his way onto the transfer list, taking on all comers, and significantly MD Derek Llambias and Pardew. His row with Pardew after the Leeds friendly caused Llambias to put him up for sale on a free. Does Ashley agree with losing a £3million asset for nothing? Doubt it. A thaw to suit all sides could be imminent.

Jose Enrique has also been fined for using Twitter to criticise the running of the club. Others in the dressing room with concerns so far remain silent but fretful.

Why? Selling skipper Kevin Nolan has removed goals and vital leadership. Enrique may go too.

New boys, including Demba Ba, and seemingly the best of all Yohan Cabaye, have big boots to fill.

And what a destabilising summer. The tour to the United States was hit by visa problems, and gruelling too, with nine flights in ten days. The hoped-for saviour, Hatem Ben Arfa got injured.

The final friendly against Fiorentina was abandoned amid a biblical rain-storm.

Pardew is walking a tight-rope between keeping sweet with the owner and Llambias, and taking them on in public to demand more players.

He must sense the discontent around, and ensure fans are talking about football rather than club politics and personalities, to keep a lid on a fragile situation.

Prediction: 14th

Key player
Newcastle appear to sell anyone up for the accolade of “most influential”. 

Gone is Kevin Nolan, on the way is Joey Barton. Out of favour is Steve Harper. Out went Andy Carroll, the towering beacon on the pitch. All influential. 

Boss Pardew has challenged new leaders to come forward. 

The obvious new candidate is an outstanding performer from last season: namely Cheik Tiote - as long as he returns from Africa this week on his mission to get a new visa. (How did that suddenly become a problem a week before the new season, by the way?) 

Tiote is the rock around which Newcastle’s midfield is built. If he plays well, Newcastle generally do well. 

His new partner Yohan Cabaye can hardly speak a word of English, but the duo could be the men to knit together the club on the pitch this season. 

Cabaye’s style is busy and positive, and if he adjusts quickly he and Tiote could provide some much-needed stability.

But in attack United need Hatem Ben Arfa to come back from injury sooner rather than later to add some creative spark and cheek.

Manager: Alan Pardew
Alan Pardew has impressed with his communication skills, tip-toeing through a minefield in recent weeks, while never swerving a question.

While that’s appreciated by fans, he has to make his mark by extracting more cash from the owner to bolster a squad thin on quality. He is trying.

Having agreed to the sale of so many influential players, Pardew has to make sure he can answer yes to a critical question come the end of the month: Is this squad now stronger than it was at the end of last season?

So far the answer is not a resounding yes. Some would say it is a convincing no, having not yet seen the new signings play.

Pardew has one of the toughest jobs in the league and his man-management skills are being tested by certain players.

He’ll be relieved when the football actually starts, instead of fire-fighting at the training ground.

Facts and stats

Last season's finish: 12th

Top scorer: Kevin Nolan - 12

Players in: Yohan Cabaye (Lille) £4.3m; Demba Ba (West Ham) free; Sylvain Marveaux (Rennes) free; Mehdi Abeid (Lens) undisclosed; Gabriel Obertan (Manchester United) £3m.

Players out: Kevin Nolan (West Ham) £4m; Sol Campbell (released); Shefki Kuqi (released); Patrick McLaughlin (released); Ben Tozer (Northampton) free, Kazenga Lua Lua (Brighton) loan.

Pub ammo: While they are now famous for playing in black and white, the Newcastle United players originally turned out in the red and white colours of hated rivals Sunderland. The kit of red shirt and white shorts was that of Newcastle East End FC, one of two clubs (along with Newcastle West End) who merged to form United in 1892. The black and white strip was adopted in 1894.

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