Wijnaldum excited to get cracking with Newcastle – as Southampton head north

Georginio Wijnaldum (right) battles against Borussia Monchengladbach
Georginio Wijnaldum (right) battles against Borussia Monchengladbach
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Georginio Wijnaldum has been counting down the days to the big Premier League kick-off – as he can’t wait to play at St James’s Park.

Wijnaldum is one of Newcastle United’s three summer signings.

And the 24-year-old will be one of the first players on Steve McClaren’s teamsheet for Sunday’s season-opener against Southampton at St James’s Park.

Wijnaldum – who netted two goals in his four pre-season appearances – will be handed the No 10 role by McClaren.

The midfielder got his first taste of playing at St James’s Park last weekend when he turned out against Borussia Monchengladbach in the club’s final warm-up fixture.

And Wijnaldum has been told all about playing at a sold-out stadium by Dutch countryman Tim Krul, Newcastle’s long-serving goalkeeper.

“From the start when I signed, I have been looking forward to playing there,” said Wijnaldum, signed from PSV Eindhoven last month in a £14.5million deal.

“I heard a lot good stories about it. Tim told me already. The players say the atmosphere is really good.”

Wijnaldum and his team-mates trained in front of more than 13,000 fans at an open day at St James’s Park on Tuesday.

And the Holland international is looking forward to playing in front of a 52,000 crowd at the stadium.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “They are trying to help you for 90 minutes to win the game.

“I want to feel that with my own body and see it with my own eyes. I hope it goes fast, so I can play the first game.”

Wijnaldum’s fellow midfielder Moussa Sissoko – one of McClaren’s “senior leadership group” – will also be on the first names on the teamsheet.

United have told Sissoko – who has regularly been linked with a move away from the club, and has spoken of his desire to play in the Champions League – that he will not be allowed to leave this summer.

The challenge now for McClaren is to find Sissoko’s best position so his power and athleticism can be harnessed.

“We can’t lose Moussa,” said McClaren. “He’s a player I admired a lot last season.

“He’s big and strong and has an absolute presence.

“He’s got a great manner about him and very professional and low maintenance.

“He loves it here and just wants to play. I’ve said to (Newcastle managing director) Lee Charnley ‘we’ve got to keep this guy’. I know there’s a lot of interest, as with all good players, but he’s under contract.

“I want him to be the main focus of our team.”

France international Sissoko, signed from Toulouse two and a half years ago, is hopeful of a better campaign under McClaren.

The club fought a relegation battle in the latter months of last season, and the challenge for Sissoko and his colleagues is to push for a top-eight finish.

It is also an important campaign for Sissoko personally given the need to play regularly and impress France coach Didier Deschamps ahead of Euro 2016, which is being staged in his homeland.

“I know the club want me to stay, and this year they will bring in some players,” said Sissoko. “We have a good team so we can do something good – better than last year, because the last six months of last year was very poor.

“I hope we can have a better season.”