By Dan King - Newcastle United Club Reporter
Cheick Tiote has sent out an ominous message to the rest of the Barclays Premier League after revealing that he feels in better shape this summer than he did at the start of last term.
The Ivorian further enhanced his reputation as one of the best defensive midfielders in the country with his displays in the Newcastle engine room but by his own admission, it took him a while to reach his peak after he missed a large chunk of pre-season while a Visa application was processed.
Following the tour of the United States last year, he trained with physio Derek Wright in Ghana while his team-mates continued their preparations back on home soil and only returned to Tyneside days before the campaign kicked off.
But after sitting out the opening warm-up game of the trip to Germany and Austria, the 26-year-old showed against Fenerbahce last week that he is already at full throttle ahead of fixtures against Olympiakos and SC Braga in Portugal next weekend.
"Last season it was difficult because I didn't play maybe two games or three games before the season started and it was difficult for me to come back straight away and play against Arsenal," Tiote told nufc.co.uk.
"But after that, it was okay. We played two more games, Sunderland and Fulham, and it was good.
"This year, there are no problems and it's okay. I feel good and I think it will be good to play the two games in Portugal.
"In pre-season, you need to do everything necessary to be fit before the season starts. I think everyone knows that and everyone is working to be fit, to be sharper, and to be ready for the first game of the competition."
In Germany and Austria, United registered a defeat, a win and a draw in their games against Chemnitzer, Monaco and Fenerbahce respectively, but Tiote felt they got better with each game.
He said: "We played three games there and the first one was difficult because we came straight from the holidays, so it was a little bit difficult to play.
"But the second one and the third game were okay. We played well and everyone looks sharper now. We've got two more games in Portugal now, then Den Haag, and after that we can't wait for the competition to start."
Tiote and his team-mates jet off to the Algarve on Thursday for a combination of sunshine and soccer, with fixtures on Friday and Saturday evening - and the ever-competitive anchorman is relishing them both.
"I think it'll be a good place to go," he said. "We can do a lot of good things there, and we've got two important games.
"It would be a good thing to win to build the confidence. I think that is important."