WILL Newcastle United be in a position where they can hold their own against members of the top six next season? Or will it be a similar situation to last term, where even though Eddie Howe oversaw a marked improvement in the second half of the campaign, the Magpies still fell short whenever they came up against one of the big boys?

After this morning’s publication of the Premier League fixture list, we should not have to wait too long for an answer. By the end of August, Howe’s new-look Newcastle will have a pretty good idea of where they stand.

Two of Newcastle’s opening five fixtures next season pit them against last season’s top two, with Manchester City due to visit St James’ Park on August 20 and United set to head to Anfield to take on Liverpool in a midweek game on August 31.

Having to tackle two of the toughest games of the campaign in the opening month is far from ideal in terms of trying to generate some early-season momentum, and it could also be argued that lining up against a newly-promoted team on the opening weekend is challenging.

Nottingham Forest will be in a buoyant mood when they head to St James’ on August 6, and newly-promoted sides tend to overperform in the first couple of months of the season before their form begins to dip around Christmas.

Newcastle will have to be wary of that, but with trips to Brighton and Wolves completing the August schedule, the opening month should provide a pretty fair indication of where the Magpies are at. It should also illustrate whether Howe has to do any last-minute shopping before the transfer window closes on September 1.

October’s trips to Old Trafford and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium could be challenging, but one of the toughest tests for all managers next season will be working out how to deal with the winter shutdown caused by the World Cup in Qatar.

Newcastle host Chelsea on November 12, and will then be inactive for six full weeks before the Premier League programme resumes with a Boxing Day trip to the King Power to face Leicester.

A training camp in the Middle East has been mooted, and with the Magpies unlikely to have a host of players involved in the World Cup, Howe will have to come up with a plan to keep his squad ticking over.

Sixteen of Newcastle’s 38 games are scheduled to take place before the break, and once the action resumes, the Boxing Day trip to Leicester will be followed by a home game against Leeds United on New Year’s Eve that is likely to serve one of the best atmospheres of the season.

The first game of 2023 is a tough one, with Newcastle heading to the Emirates to take on Arsenal on January 2, but the start of the new year looks reasonably inviting until Liverpool and Manchester City reappear on the fixture list in late February and early March.

Three of Newcastle’s final five matches take place on Tyneside, with Arsenal the visitors on May 6 as the run-in really begins.

The Magpies head to Elland Road for their penultimate away game, before Leicester visit Gallowgate for the final home match of the campaign on May 20.

The season ends eight days later with a Sunday-afternoon trip to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea, and the hope is that the game will see two European contenders going head-to-head.

It remains to be seen whether that is a realistic proposition, but at least when the fixtures were released earlier today, Newcastle supporters were not looking at that Chelsea match and worrying their side might have to spring a final-day surprise to avoid relegation. If nothing else, that represents progress from this time last summer.