Aleksandar Mitrovic can’t wait to get back on the pitch in a Newcastle United shirt – and he’s determined to stay on the field with the help of Rafa Benitez.
The striker will make his first appearance of the season tonight.
This time is now behind me, so I’m looking forward to playing. It’s behind me now. I’m looking to get out there and to help my team-matesAleksandar Mitrovic
Mitrovic, having served a four-game ban for the second of his two dismissals last season, will lead the line against Cheltenham Town in the EFL Cup.
And the 21-year-old’s return will give manager Benitez a decision to make for Saturday’s Championship home game against second-placed Brighton and Hove Albion.
For his part, Mitrovic – who scored nine Premier League goals last season – is keen to make up for lost time in the second-round tie at St James’s Park.
“It’s been hard, but they have tried very hard out there and done well after the first two games,” said Mitrovic.
“We have confidence after two wins, and hopefully we can keep playing like that over the next few weeks.”
Asked if it had been difficult watching from the sidelines, Mitrovic added: “I just decided to speak to the manager. I made sure to train hard every day outside and to stay in shape and stay fit.
“This time is now behind me, so I’m looking forward to playing.
“It’s behind me now. I’m looking to get out there and to help my team-mates. I want to score goals, to do my best and make an impact.”
Benitez has regularly been speaking to Mitrovic about the need to keep his discipline in the Championship.
“We are talking to him all the time, watching videos of past games and training with him, coaching him, and we are always telling him what he has to do and what he has not to do and how he has to react,” he said.
“It is a process. It is not something that can be done by just clicking your fingers. We have to keep talking and working with him.
“Every day you say to him ‘be careful with this and that’, and guess what will happen with certain situations.
“He is still a young player, so he is still learning. Because he is such a strong player, people think he is a senior player with a lot of experience, but that is not the case. He is still learning and still improving.
“We show him where he has gone wrong in the past, and we keep reminding him and repeating so that he gets the message.”
Asked if he was concerned that he would be provoked by Championship defenders, Benitez added: “That is normal.
“It is the case in every division, and that will not be new for him.”
Benitez will use his experience of working with players with similar temperaments.
“I have had a lot of them, and the only way is to repeat the same message time and again so that they realise, and hopefully, after a four-game ban, he will have learned the lesson,” he said.
“You are coaching players during a training session. It is only during the match that you see if it is working, and it is up to him.
“I have seen a lot of players in the Championship who are talking to the referees and losing their tempers.
“There are a lot of players in this division who react in the same way, so it is normal.”
Supporters are looking forward to seeing Mitrovic paired with Dwight Gayle up front.
Gayle took his goal tally for the season to four with the club’s winner against Bristol City at Ashton Gate on Saturday.
The result saw the club climb up to seventh in the Championship.
And Benitez feels the extra competition will bring the best out of his strikers.
“One important thing for me is the competition – that is a positive,” he said.
“If they compete in the right way, all of them will improve.
“If I play with just one striker, and he is doing well, and the other one gets a chance, he has to work even harder and be positive.”
Mitrovic feels he is ready for the Championship.
“We all know that defenders are big and strong at this level,” said the Serbia international.
“A lot of them might not try to play football.
“They might look to play long balls, and to keep me out of the box, but I know what I need to do.
“I will be doing my best to get in the box and score goals – just do my job.
“I know what I have to do. We know what we have to do. I know my job and I will be trying to do that on the pitch.”