FOR Newcastle United to rediscover their swagger this season, Alan Pardew must find a solution to the midfield equation which beat him last year.
Sounds simple, doesn't it? If only. The evidence of pre-season suggests that Pardew is still wrestling with the best midfield mix to take Newcastle forward, and that situation will only become more complicated if Paris Saint Germain firm up their interest in United's agent provocateur Yohan Cabaye.
UNCERTAINTY is not meant to be fun.
Not at Sunderland, at least, where the summer transfer window has a tradition of settling into a familiar, draining process. Since 2007, the churn rate has been remarkable at the Stadium of Light - every close season bringing about a new cast of arrivals recruited to end the sorry cycle of underachievement.
Nine in 2007, eight in 2008. It was eight again in 2011 and the average number of new additions in the last six season has been six - a figure skewed by Martin O'Neill's conservative recruitment drive last summer.
AROUNA Kone to Newcastle would have been a transfer that completed the Mike Ashley cycle.
The deal seemed to tick a lot of the Ashley boxes: cheap(ish) but useful, Wigan striker Kone would have been a very decent addition to Newcastle's squad. Not the high end replacement for Demba Ba they require, but an upgrade on what United had last season.
DAY one of Joe Kinnear's second coming and Newcastle United's director of football is confronted with an in-tray the size of Everest.
SO the week when Newcastle United's Premier League survival prospects moved from comfortable to critical ends with us talking about Hatem Ben Arfa's gym habits, whether a lack of fight is deeply ingrained in Gallic DNA and a banned reporter.
SO here is one of the problems with covering Premier League football.
AN old friend from the Midlands told me about the day Martin O'Neill invited all of the Second City press pack to an end of season dinner.
IT goes without saying that Sunday's game is of huge significance to a Sunderland side in danger of being sucked into a bitter relegation fight.
EUGENE Laverty got his own back in Race Two at Phillip Island when he stole the win from team-mate Sylvain Guintoli.
After finishing second behind Guintoli in the opening FIM World Superbike Championship race, Laverty turned the tables as he led his team-mate over the line.
Third man home was GoldBet BMW's Marco Melandri, with the Red Devils Roma Aprilia of Michel Fabrizio fourth.
SYLVAIN Guintoli announced his arrival in the Aprilia Racing Team by winning the first race of the 2013 World Superbike Championship at Phillip Island.
The UK-based Frenchman led an Aprilia 1-2-3 over the line in today's opening race from the Australian track, with team-mate Eugene Laverty beating the Red Devils Roma Aprilia of Michel Fabrizio in a photo-finish for second.
But the race was marred by a heavy crash involving polesitter Carlos Checa and Marco Melandri on Lap 13. The Spaniard is believed to have been knocked unconscious and latest reports say he has been taken to Melbourne Hospital for further checks.