Vito Mannone insists he is “relaxed” about the increased pressure on his place in Sunderland’s starting line-up from Costel Pantilimon – and believes enhanced competition can make him a better goalkeeper.
The Italian was the Black Cats’ undisputed No 1 last season, with Keiren Westwood injured for the most part.
Though Westwood has subsequently been released and joined Sheffield Wednesday, Gus Poyet signed Pantilimon during the summer on a free transfer from Manchester City.
Mannone got the nod for Sunderland’s opening Premier League game at West Bromwich Albion last Saturday and seems set to retain his place for Sunday’s visit of Manchester United.
Asked if he was relieved to have started the new campaign as Poyet’s first-choice goalkeeper, the 26-year-old said: “Yes.
“I had a chat with the manager earlier in the pre-season so I was relaxed about it, I was focused to do the best for my team again. I enjoyed my first game.
“Yet there’s always space for improvement – until you retire. I think I have a lot to improve on.
“A regular run in side is always very good. It gives you confidence. It’s fantastic for your relationship with team-mates.
“It’s always different if you’re not playing regularly. You can’t expect a player to be at his best when he’s in and out.
“It shows confidence in you from the manager and you have to reassure him you are on top form.”
Mannone added: “Every club has to have two or three senior goalkeepers. It was impossible to go into the season with just me as the only senior goalkeeper.
“I trust the manager and a week before the (West Brom) game he said to me I was starting.
“Nothing’s changed regarding the battle, it’s down to me to play as last year.”
On Sunday’s visit of the Red Devils, Mannone said: “We’re playing against one of the best clubs, it can give us a boost and space for the next six to eight games. We need to put points on the board, we can’t make the same mistakes as last year.
“They might be fired up (after an opening defeat to Swansea City) but you never know, it can play into our court because sometimes the spaces open up and you can play your own football.
“We know it’s Manchester United and they have special players and on a good day a single player can make a result for them.”