Pep Guardiola claims the Manchester City dressing-room spirit is the best he has known at the club.
The City manager has often hailed the togetherness of his squad during his six years at the Etihad Stadium, a period in which they have claimed eight major trophies.
Yet as they target even more silverware this season, Guardiola feels the rapport between his players and staff has reached new levels.
“The harmony in this team right now is exceptional,” said Guardiola, whose side summarizes their latest Champions League challenge at Sporting Lisbon on Tuesday.
“We know each other well, we accept many things for all of us and my harmony and respect with them is much better, (after) six seasons.
“We know each other perfectly and we accept the good things and the bad things, we want to fight and be part of it.”
Asked if the harmony was the best he had known since taking over at City, Guardiola said at a press conference: “Yes. This is the main target for me, to have a harmony in the team and to fight to keep it as high as possible. The players will do the rest.
“What they have between them is the most important thing, their respect for each other.
“In football the most difficult thing is that every day they are ‘enemies’, they fight for one position in the team. They are enemies in a nice sense.
“But after they have to be brothers at the weekend, and that mix is not easy to handle because everyone wants to play. So if they have respect for each other, then the rest is easy.”
City are firm favorites to win their fourth Premier League title in five seasons having opened up a nine-point lead at the top but the feeling remains that European success is the one they now really crave.
For all their brilliance domestically, the Champions League trophy continues to elude them, with last season’s runners-up finish their best effort.
Guardiola insists on being continually asked about this does not bother him.
“You can ask whatever, as many times as you want,” said the Spaniard at a press conference to preview the last-16 first-leg clash at the Jose Alvalade Stadium.
“Does it bother me? Not because it means we are here in the Champions League.
“It’s an honor and a pleasure to travel to Portugal to try to compete well and try to win the game.”
Tuesday sees City return to the scene of their disappointing exit to Lyon in their rearranged quarter-final of 2020.
Guardiola is expecting another tough game this time around against the Portuguese champions.
“Last season they beat Porto and Benfica as they are a really good team and they got through a group with Ajax and Dortmund,” he said. “I was really impressed with how good they are.”
The match is likely to see them come up against their own right-back Pedro Porro, who is currently on loan with Sporting.
Spain international Porro, 22, has impressed in his two years at Sporting but the player said last year he was not sure if Guardiola even knew who he was.
Guardiola said: “I know him perfectly but we have maybe 250 loan players! I cannot speak with them all but I’m happy it’s going well.”