Newcastle United midfielder Mo Diame says he is relishing playing in a deeper midfield role during pre-season.
The Senegalese star mainly operated in the No 10 position for the Magpies last season as they clinched promotion from the Championship.
Diame had something of an inconsistent campaign after his £5million move from Hull City, scoring six goals in all competitions in a season that was interrupted by a trip to the Africa Cup of Nations.
So far in pre-season, boss Rafa Benitez has also tried Diame out in a more central, withdrawn role and the player himself says he’s enjoying it.
Speaking after Saturday’s 2-1 defeat in Germany against Bundesliga side Mainz, Diame said: “It was tiring, but I feel OK.
“I am playing in the middle – where I like to play – so I am trying to enjoy my football.
“I am happy to help the team, and I am just trying to get myself ready for the start of the season.”
Diame played for more than an hour against Mainz, partnering Jack Colback in the centre of midfield, with Siem de Jong operating ahead of him, just off striker Aleksandar Mitrovic.
The Magpies suffered their first defeat of pre-season as Mainz snatched a late winner through former Middlesbrough winger Viktor Fischer’s effort five minutes from time.
Earlier, defender Jesus Gamez had struck to cancel out Levin Oztunali’s early goal in sweltering conditions, with temperatures in the Rhineland almost topping 30 degrees Celsius.
The Magpies will stay in Germany and take on Wolfsburg on Wednesday, before heading back to Tyneside for their final warm-up game when Italian outfit Verona visit St James’s Park on Sunday.
Diame feels the Tynesiders are making progress as they gear up for their Premier League opener against Tottenham on August 13.
“You always want to win when you play a game, but I think it was a good session for everyone because they made us run a lot, and that is good for our fitness,” he told nufc.co.uk.
“But, yes, of course we are disappointed with the result.
“I was quite surprised – you do not expect that sort of sun. But, the weather was a good thing for our fitness as well, and we know how important it is to get fit.
“The most important game is on the 13th and we need to be ready for that one.
“Wolfsburg are another good team, so it will definitely be a similar game on Wednesday. We are just trying to get better game after game to make sure we are ready on the 13th.”
Defender Mikel Merino made his debut off the bench against Mainz.
Full-back DeAndre Yedlin and captain Jamaal Lascelles face races to be ready for the Spurs game.
Yedlin limped off in the first half on Saturday with a hamstring problem, while Lascelles has only played 45 minutes in the first friendly against Hearts.
Meanwhile, French club Saint-Etienne are in advanced talks with Newcastle over a free-transfer move for unwanted defender Massadio Haidara.
The 24-year-old is not in Benitez’s plans for the coming season.
The proposed deal, which is subject to a medical, would see Haidara, signed from Nancy in January 2013, leave St James’s Park for nothing.
However, Newcastle would be entitled to 50% of any future sale.
Haidara’s career at United has been hampered by a series of injuries, notably the knee problem he suffered under a reckless challenge from then-Wigan Athletic player Callum McManaman in March 2014.
The former France Under-21 international only one subsitute’s appearance during the club’s Championship-winning season.
Haidara spoke of his “frustration” in March.
“There are many players here with the same frustrations because we are not playing,” said the left-back.
“This is a problem when a team has so many good players. We have a big squad, a quality squad.”
Haidara has only made one appearance so far this pre-season.
And Benitez has told Haidara and a number of other first-team players, including Emmanuel Riviere, Henri Saivet, Achraf Lazaar and Tim Krul, to find new clubs.