It is safe to say Newcastle United are ahead of schedule as they look to take the next steps of their development under the ownership of a PIF-led consortium.
When the current owners were handed the keys to St James Park in October 2021, the Magpies were labouring under former manager Steve Bruce and were sat in the Premier League relegation zone without a win to their name.
The appointment of Eddie Howe, some inspired coaching and a strong investment in the transfer market that saw the likes of Bruno Guimaraes and Kieran Trippier arrive on Tyneside all played a part in securing safety and in laying the foundations of what would be a successful challenge for a Champions League place in Howe's first full season in charge.
Asked on Sky Sports what the pre-season objective was ahead of last season, Howe said: “It certainly wasn't top four. You always have to hope and dream but we didn't feel we were ready for that after battling relegation. It was about consolidating and becoming a better team. And not have that flirtation with relegation. The lads have been unbelievable, their mentality, their attitude."
The fourth placed finish allowed Newcastle to take on AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund in what many have termed the 'Group of Death' in this season's Champions League - but what are the Magpies chances of returning to European football's top table for a second consecutive season?
As revealed in stats shown by Sky Sports, OPTA believe Howe's men are among the five clubs most likely to secure a top four place - and are almost four times as likely as Manchester United to compete in next season's Champions League.
There will be little surprise to discover Manchester City, the current Premier League and Champions League holders, are said to be certain to claim one of the top four places with a 100% chance of qualification for UEFA's premier club competition next season.
Jurgen Klopp's reinvigorated Liverpool and Arsenal are next best to claim a top four place with chances of 92.9% and 91% respectively. Tottenham Hotspur are enjoying a remarkable start to life under former Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou and they still remain in the top four despite suffering defeats against Chelsea and Wolves over the last ten days. The North London outfit are set at 39.1% to remain in the Champions League spots, closely followed by Aston Villa (34.2%) as they continue to impress under Unai Emery.
Next up come Newcastle, with Howe's side said to have a 24.8% chance of competing in the Champions League for a second consecutive season. That puts United clear of Brighton and Hove Albion (7.4%), Manchester United (6.5%) and Chelsea (1.7%).