We are ahead of schedule.
Not many of us foresaw our fantastic 5th placed finish and only a few more people predicted the meteoric rise in the popularity of our manager. In a pre season note that I wrote last summer for 442 magazine, I said that a 7th placed finish for 2011/12 would have been a fantastic season - but where now after a season in which we massively exceeded expectations?
In my end of season 'awards' blog I asked you to comment on your expectations for next season. As ever, the response was mixed with some concerned about the number of games we will face as we embark on a Europa League campaign and others looking to push onwards and upwards into the top 4.
Alan Pardew has been looking to play down expectations: â€śExpectations are going to be higher,â€ť Pardew said. â€śPeople will be aware of us and that is one of the biggest challenges we are going to have next season. We are going to find it harder.â€ť
I have to agree with the boss.
The squad as it stands is not big enough to cope with the demands of a possible 50+ game season. Llambias suggested that a big name or two might head out of the door, as well as the likely departures of Simpson, Guthrie, Lovenkrands, Smith and Best. Yes there will be incoming players - Amalfitano has already arrived from Ligue 2 Champions Reims, but we badly need cover - not least at RB (we need a starter there, not just cover), CB, CM and up top should Best find a new club.
Other richer clubs will strengthen too.
We finished above Liverpool - they're still in a little bit of turmoil seemingly looking at about 15 different managers to take them into next season. Whoever gets the nod is unlikely to produce results as poor as 'King Kennys' and it's very unlikely that their signings will be as bad.
Chelsea, who we beat with relative ease at Stamford Bridge in May, are also looking for a new manager. They've lost Drogba but have already strengthened with the fantastically talented (if not annoying) Eden Hazard. Whoever takes the hot seat there is likely to have more Russian oil money to burn. If Abramovich gets that appointment right not only will Chelsea be back in the top 4, they'll be title contenders.
Arsenal are an interesting opponent. If they stay unchanged we can challenge them in terms of league place next season, even if they keep Van Persie. However I think that keeping Van Persie might be indicative of extra investment in the playing squad and they've already been linked with some very good players.
Spurs look favourites to sign Vertonghen but the future of Modric is less clear. I have no idea what to expect of them next season. Their fans aren't unanimous in their support of Redknapp and many of them think that their collapse from 'mind the gap' had as much to do with his tactical deficiencies as the England job link. Finishing 4th but missing out on a Champions League spot due to Chelsea's success in that tournament is a huge blow for Spurs planning. They'll be strong, but no more than they have been this year.
From the top two, City will once again chase the title. They're too rich not too. United on the other hand are saddled with massive debts. Will their immense power mean that they can continue to strengthen on the park or will they have to look to cheaper alternatives? We took 4 relatively easy points from them last season but Ferguson, possibly the greatest manager of all time, has them over achieving. We can definitely close the gap on them.
As for the rest - Everton have no money, Villa are stumbling about Liverpool-esque but worse and our friends down the road have a ridiculous turnover/ salary ratio that they need to trim before they can buy.
All things considered, where do I think we will finish? 6th/ 7th. Dropping a place or two would be no great issue for me. Like a band releasing that 'difficult second album', Pardew has a very tough job on his hands. Anything above that and a good crack at the cups would be great.
Last seasonâ€™s unexpected fight for a top four finish until the final day meant that we could not risk playing the youngsters too often. We have some fantastic prospects and the season ahead will surely give us the chance to watch the likes of Tavernier, Abeid, Ferguson, Vuckic, Sammy and maybe even Streete (though it may be too soon for him) on a more regular basis.
I'm looking forward to Euro 2012, but the second it is over I will be counting down the days until Newcastle United are back on the park playing competitive football again.