State of play: Newcastle began last season looking contenders for a swift return to the Football League and ended it in 10th. It ranked as another illustration of Rafa Benitez's prowess.
Now a tough early-season fixture list means it will be difficult to muster a good start. It underlines the extent to which Benitez’s feels an uphill task.
At a time when many of the other mid-table teams have been investing heavily, he has been unable to.
It means that, as ever in Ashley’s Newcastle, a position feels precarious with the owner’s actions threatening to damage a club with the potential Benitez recognises.
Key player: Jonjo Shelvey – Began last season in disgrace, with an idiotic sending-off in the opening defeat to Tottenham, and ended it producing the kind of form that sparked calls for him to make England's World Cup squad. Now Shelvey needs to sustain that excellence over a whole season.
Manager: Rafa Benitez – The Uefa Champions League and Championship winner steered Newcastle into the top half despite frustrations in the transfer market. Yet he is now in the last year of his contract and Ashley's reluctance to provide the kind of guarantees the Spaniard requires means he has not extended it yet. Is this a valedictory campaign?
Talking point: Can Benitez continue to improve Newcastle with such a limited budget? The Spaniard has boxed very clever so far, getting winger Kenedy, a terrific loanee, back from Chelsea, and goalkeeper Martin Dubravka on a permanent deal for just £4 million (Dh19m).
Switzerland international defender Fabian Schar has the makings of a £3m bargain while Ki Sung-Yeung looks an astute free transfer.
Selling Aleksandar Mitrovic should raise the funds to bring in Yoshinori Muto and, possibly, Salomon Rondon in attack.
Yet neither tends to be prolific: the reality is that more potent scorers tend to cost more than Newcastle prefer to pay.