Vito Mannone is relishing the “battle” with Jordan Pickford to start the season as Sunderland’s number one goalkeeper.
The 28-year-old ended last season as first choice, playing a key role in the club’s Premier League survival.
But he is being pushed all the way by England Under-21 international Pickford, who is likely to start the second friendly of the France tour tonight against Ligue 1 side Dijon FCO (5pm kick-off).
Mannone completed the full 90 minutes in the 2-0 win over FC Stade Nyonnais in the opening friendly, ending the game with the captain’s armband on.
The Italian made 20 appearances last year and he knows it is up to him to keep the jersey under new boss David Moyes when the Premier League season kicks off.
“It is my job, I did well last year and I got the jersey and it is down to me to maintain it,” Mannone told the Echo.
“That is the job I am in, I am glad there has always been someone behind me to push me because I work even harder – that is the best feeling.
“The secret is the work, in my life I learned that.
“If you keep working and believing in yourself then you can achieve good things.
“I enjoy the battle.
“We have a good relationship and fight for the spot, as it is supposed to be in every club.
“I am glad I’m in the position at the moment and want to work hard to maintain it and improve myself,” added Mannone, who signed a new two-year deal in the summer.
After being handed a second chance by former boss Sam Allardyce, Mannone has reinvigorated his Sunderland career after it looked as if he would leave the club in January.
The former Arsenal stopper appears favourite to start the season, having enjoyed the most minutes of pre-season so far.
Mannone started against Hartlepool United and Nyonnais, with Pickford getting 45 minutes in the win over Rotherham United.
But Pickford is likely to be given a run out tonight, a chance for the Washington-born 22-year-old to impress his new manager.
Moyes and his coaching staff are working the squad hard in south-eastern France, with goalkeeping coach Adrian Tucker pushing Mannone, Pickford and Max Stryjek to their limits.
And Mannone believes the tour has come at just the right time ahead of another gruelling Premier League campaign.
“It is nice to go away and be together as a group, because if you live together in the same hotel and spend more time and get to know the manager, then it is a nice thing,” he said.
“We have tough games every two or three games to test our fitness and we need to be ready for that.
“Maybe this time round with a few good additions the group can be strong and we can have a good group of players from the first game to the last to push on in the league, it is a long and very tough league.”