VITO Mannone says the new-found competition for places in Sunderland’s central defence can only improve the side this season.
And the Black Cats goalkeeper says he’s happy playing behind any combination of John O’Shea, Wes Brown or Santiago Vergini that boss Gus Poyet chooses.
Over the course of last season and the start of the current one, the Sunderland head coach’s selection for central defence could hardly have been simpler – it was always former Manchester United duo Wes Brown and John O’Shea if both were fit.
But Argentina international Vergini joined O’Shea last month in keeping a clean sheet against Swansea City when Brown was out with a knock.
And the South American kept his starting place at the weekend as Sunderland notched their first Premier League win of the season with fit-again Brown left on the bench.
It is far from a changing of the guard but the fact that the on-loan Estudiantes defender is now providing genuine competition for Brown and O’Shea, means a big step forward in terms of Sunderland’s strength in depth.
“At the back we now have three very good centre-backs who can compete with each other for a place,” agreed Mannone.
“I wouldn’t mind playing with any of them in front and I think Santi has shown great character.
“It wasn’t an easy situation for him, or for any of the boys who came from Argentina because it’s difficult to adapt to this style of football but he’s done marvellous I think.
“It was hard for him in the first few months, but he won his place at right-back and he was a big player for us achieving safety and staying in the Premier League.
“This season he’s shown he can do the same at centre-back and I think we have a very good player on our hands.”
Defence in general has not been a problem for Sunderland this season and, impressively, they have conceded just one goal in their last three Premier League games.
“We’re building a relationship and as defenders they know what you’re there for and what you can give to them,” said the 26-year-old Mannone.
“From my point of view I know exactly what they can give to me.
“It has been tough because in the very first game, something unexpected happened.
“You have trained for two months but in the last minute you end up with a new set of defenders and Valentin Roberge had to play. Then we took a little bit of time to get back to our back four.
“Then we had problems again with Wes a couple of games ago and then changed the back four in the Capital One Cup.
“But we know what the gaffer wants and it helps that each member of the team has been training under that system for the last two or three months.”
“We know what we need to give at the back and hopefully we can improve more over time.”