VITO MANNONE insists he has no qualms over battling Costel Pantilimon for the goalkeeping spot at Sunderland.
While head coach Gus Poyet will have a number of decisions to make on his starting line-up at the Hawthorns, the biggest dilemma perhaps lies in who will start the season between the posts.
Mannone was one of few success stories of the last campaign and the Italian was rewarded for a string of impressive displays and important saves when he picked up the club’s Player of the Year award.
However, the arrival Pantilimon from Manchester City has thrown Mannone’s place in doubt and Poyet has made it clear throughout the summer that the pair are on an even keel going into the new season.
That doesn’t faze the former Arsenal keeper, though, who insists he has had to prove himself in the past.
“There is nothing new about having competition – it has happened at every club I have been at,” Mannone said. “This is football and it is normal. Maybe sometimes for the people outside the club it is strange, but it is normal for us as players.
“I just need to prove that I am the best, and I need to give every reason to the gaffer to keep picking me.”
Mannone was a second half substitute in the Black Cats’ final pre-season outing against Udinese last Saturday, which ended in a 2-0 win for Poyet’s men.
Jack Rodwell made his Sunderland debut following his £10m move from Manchester City and having also seen Santiago Vergini and Buckley sign on, Mannone believes the squad is set for tomorrow’s opener.
He said: “It definitely feels as though things are falling into place. It’s good to have some new players in the squad, especially of the quality of Jack (Rodwell) and Santi (Vergini), who arrived last week.
“We know Santiago from last year, and when he played against Betis, it looked as though he had never left. From that point of view it is great, because he knows what we are doing here. Jack should be a great addition because he has all the qualities you want in a player.
“We haven’t conceded many goals in pre-season, so it has been okay. The work on the training pitch has been really good. It has been hard work, but we have done all the bits we had to.
“We are becoming sharper and sharper so that’s what we have been focusing on. Hopefully, we will have another big season, especially with all the teams around the Premier League spending money and reinforcing their team. We are going to face even bigger players every time, so it will be tough.”
The Black Cats will be looking to avoid a repeat of their start 12 months ago when Paolo Di Canio’s side claimed only one point from their opening eight matches.
That run meant Sunderland were forced to play catch-up for the rest of the season, and Mannone has stressed the importance of not letting the same thing happen again this time.
“We need to be focused for the start of the season,” the Italian said. “The first ten games are always so important and, for some reason, last year we didn’t pick up so many points in that period.
“We need to make points at the beginning this time to enable us to kick on later on. Obviously, we are well aware that we need to focus on ourselves and our game plans. We have to stick to what the gaffer wants because when it comes off, it is great to see.”