It is largely another frustrating summer of transfer inactivity for Newcastle United fans. Despite the surprise record-breaking signing of Brazilian striker Joelinton from Hoffenheim and the double-whammy of Willems and Saint-Maximin on Friday, their squad remains vulnerable after a number of senior departures.
Ayoze Pérez has left for the more ambitious project of Leicester City, Josélu has departed for his native Spain, Mohamed Diamé has moved to Al Ahli on a free transfer and the loan signings of Kenedy, Antonio Barreca and the influential Salomón Rondón have all expired, leaving some rather large holes in Steve Bruce's plans.
Can Magpies repeat Longstaff success?
One of the biggest positives of the last campaign was the emergence of local lad Sean Longstaff who became irreplaceable in the middle of the park after being given a chance to impress during a midfield injury crisis.
The young talent has even been linked with a move to Manchester United, but Bruce has already stated he is not for sale. Along with Isaac Hayden, who was also something of a revelation during the second half of the season, he was unplayable during their win over Manchester City in January, with Pep Guardiola admitting that they "couldn't handle" the midfield duo.
This season, however, there may be more of an expectation for Newcastle's youth products to make their mark on the Premier League.
Sean's younger brother and fellow central midfielder Matty Longstaff has begun to stake his claim, appearing in all of their pre-season fixtures so far, starting once against Preston North End last weekend. Bruce, talking to the Shields Gazette, said this after his performance at Deepdale:
“I was impressed with the way he trained. I’ve been impressed with the way he’s gone about his work since I’ve been at the club.
I thought it would be good for him to get a start, and I thought he did very, very well in the first half.”
However, it is unlikely that he will see much first-team action ahead of his brother or the likes of Jonjo Shelvey, Ki Sung-Yeung and Isaac Hayden in the centre of the pitch.
It remains to be seen whether Jack Colback, another midfield option, will make a return to the Championship with Nottingham Forest, but the Shields Gazette report that Bruce would like him to stay, having managed him at Sunderland.
A 'Great Dane' in the making?
Instead, it may fall to one of Newcastle's biggest U23 talents to make the next leap from the reserves to the first team. With their striker numbers dwindling and uncertainty over the future of Dwight Gayle and the form of Yoshinori Muto, the Magpies may look to 19-year-old Danish forward Elias Sørensen.
The young striker has made a big impact playing for their second-string side, scoring 16 times in 22 appearances last season, according to Transfermarkt. He was even given a pre-season start against West Ham United in China, showing how highly rated he is at the club.
However, despite his goals and clear talent, it is impossible to predict whether he would be able to make the transition to the Premier League as smoothly as Longstaff did.
He was sent out on loan to Blackpool in League One for the second half of the 2018/19 season in order to gain first-team experience, however, this did not work out as expected.
He made a solitary appearance off the bench in a draw with Wycombe Wanderers and was eventually brought back to Newcastle early after Blackpool could not guarantee him playtime.
For the player's development, it would likely be much more beneficial to get a full season under his belt on loan than be around the fringes of the senior team on the off-chance he can make a difference during an injury-plagued campaign.
It must be remembered that before Sean Longstaff had his breakthrough, he had a number of seasons on loan to gain experience, enjoying periods at Blackpool as well as Kilmarnock.
If Sørensen can build on his U23s success, in the same way, he will likely become a valuable asset for the first team in future — just not this season.
Sterry eyeing regular right-back role
Jamie Sterry is a player that one might have expected to have moved up into the Newcastle team already, having made eight senior appearances in the past few years and being named on the bench numerous times.
Once expected to follow in Paul Dummett's footsteps in cementing a place in the first team, he is another who had a failed loan move last season, at Crewe Alexandra, costing him much-needed game time and experience.
Rafael Benítez had faith in him in cup fixtures and to fill in on occasion during their Championship campaign, but now at 23, he is running out of time to prove himself as a reliable option going forward.
Javier Manquillo currently has the right-back slot to lose, if there are no more defensive in-comings, as his end of season form proved he is still Premier League material.
He is slightly more reliable defensively than DeAndre Yedlin, who himself is unlikely to be fit for the season opener after an operation to solve a groin injury.
Sterry may well be back-up to Manquillo for the moment, but if there were to be a flurry of signings in the last week of the window then he may find himself looking for another loan or even a permanent departure from his hometown club.
Bruce to bring loan stars in from the cold
One advantage of Steve Bruce's arrival at the Toon is his relationship with both Rolando Aarons and Achraf Lazaar, who spent the latter half of last season on loan at Sheffield Wednesday.
Both were somewhat of a success at Hillsborough, showing that despite losing their way at times over the past few seasons, both are still capable footballers.
Lazaar's season ended prematurely due to injury, but Aarons went on to notch one goal and an assist during his nine appearances, one of which was the Steel City Derby.
Both have featured in pre-season, though Aarons much more prominently and of the two he is the more likely to catch the manager's eye and earn a regular place on the bench.
Both players are left-sided and so their chances of first-team football will likely be threatened by the two new arrivals, whilst Jacob Murphy will also add to the competition on the wings after his return from a short loan spell at West Bromwich Albion.
As for the mysterious figure of Henri Saïvet, who recently helped Senegal reach the final of the African Cup of Nations unless interest comes in during the last week of the window, he may well become an occasional back-up option in midfield alongside the aforementioned Colback.
However, despite a lot of promise, especially in the case of Aarons and Murphy, none of these players have shown they are Premier League standard on a consistent basis and so doubts will remain over their ability to fill in over the course of a gruelling campaign.
One big positive in terms of Newcastle's loan business this season will be Freddie Woodman signing a contract extension and moving to Championship side Swansea City for the year, hopefully gaining much needed regular football.
He will be no doubt be hoping to mirror the exploits of England U21 keeper Dean Henderson at Sheffield United last season, as Woodman had a mixed 2018/19 as Newcastle's third-choice goalie.
The Bottom Line: more incomings needed
As much as Newcastle have numbers in the dressing room in certain areas, they are lacking in others - notably upfront. Youth products like Sean Longstaff, and to a greater extent, the likes of Marcus Rashford at Manchester Utd or Harry Kane at Tottenham Hotspur, do not come along very often.
Therefore, it would be very naive of the Newcastle hierarchy to rely on lightning striking twice this season.
That said, it looks as if the recruitment drive is beginning to gather speed, and by this time next week, the squad may look much healthier and capable of staving off relegation for a third season in a row.
Any potential surprises breaking through from the reserves or the academy will then simply be a bonus, rather than a necessity.