Mats Sels feels he’s getting to grips with English football after a bruising first few months at Newcastle United.
The goalkeeper arrived from Belgian club Gent in the summer.
And Sels – who started the campaign as Rafa Benitez’s first-choice between the posts – will be in goal against Aston Villa this evening.
The 24-year-old has had to quickly adapt to the intensity and physicality of the Championship.
“It’s definitely more physical,” said Sels, who kept clean sheets in four successive league games.
“It’s hard, because all of the lads you play against are strong. It’s important to come for the high balls and everything, but it’s good for me to experience that because it helps you improve and get better.
“The game is definitely a lot faster here, and you have to be focused right through every game. The ball is always going up and down the pitch.
“In Belgium, if you are one of the big teams, you can dominate the whole game for 80 minutes and then in the last five minutes they might play with five strikers to try to finally test you.
“Here, the game is constantly going backwards and forwards. That’s the big difference.
“You have to play games to get used to the level. Hopefully, we can now go on another run of clean sheets and stay towards the top of the rankings.”
It’s hard, because all of the lads you play against are strong. It’s important to come for the high balls and everything, but it’s good for me to experience that because it helps you improve and get better.Matz Sels
Manchester City signed Claudio Bravo from Barcelona in the summer, and, like Sels, the 33-year-old is having to adjust to English football.
“You only have to look at somebody like Claudio Bravo,” said Sels.
“He’s played for Barcelona, but he comes here and he still finds it more physical.
“That’s definitely the main difference between England and anywhere else. He will adapt, but even he needs some time to get used to the way of playing.”
Asked if he has had to change his game, Sels added: “You have to change a few things. The most important thing here is that your opponents will try to block you whenever you come off your line.
“In Belgium, the referees will not allow that, but here sometimes they let it go. It’s getting better, and goalkeepers are getting protected a bit more, but still it’s not the same as in Belgium.
“In Belgium, we also play against tall strikers – Bravo will have played against tall strikers in Spain too – but the blocks are different.”
Sels is also feeling more at home off the pitch.
“At the beginning, it was difficult,” said the Belgium Under-21 international. “You have to adapt, find a new place to live and everything, but now it is going better.
“Every week it’s getting better, but at the beginning, it was difficult.
“When I was playing in Belgium last year, I decided it was time to make the next step. Newcastle came in, and they are a big team, so for me this has been a good decision.
“Hopefully, every game I can keep improving and get better and better.”
Sels also feels the competition from Karl Darlow – who was confident and assured in Tuesday night’s 2-0 EFL Cup win over Wolverhampton Wanderers – is bringing out the best in him.
“You know that if you are playing for a good club, there will be a lot of competition,” he said. “I have to try to improve every detail of my game, and then I can play better and it’s better for me for the national team too.
“It can only be a good thing for myself.”