Pep Guardiola has hailed the blossoming centre-back partnership between Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones at Manchester City, with Vincent Kompany's latest injury ordeal showing no sign of an upturn.
Guardiola told a news conference ahead of Saturday's game against Burnley that club captain Kompany would miss out once more with a calf problem and he had no idea when the Belgium defender would return.
Over recent seasons, Kompany's absences have tended to prompt varying degrees of collapse in form by City's backline.
But Otamendi and Stones have formed an increasingly assured alliance over the course of five Premier League victories and three out of three in the Champions League since Kompany last featured at Bournemouth in August.
"A lot, a lot – I'm really impressed," Guardiola said when reviewing the duo's form, reserving particular praise for Otamendi – a robust, no-frills defender who would not necessarily be expected to flourish under the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss.
"Always we talk about the guys who play offensively but John and Nico, both of them were fantastic in the last month because they played all the games.
"Nico played against Stoke City when I had a lot of doubts because he came from [international duty with] Argentina, from 10 days with a lot of pressure in his mind to qualify for the World Cup.
"He is one of the players I have met in my life with the strongest mentality and he is a guy who only wants to learn in terms of the ball possession.
"Always he was strong in the air and winning duels. Also, he has the courage to play. Even when he makes mistakes, it doesn’t matter. If he loses the ball, he wants you to give it to him again and play.
"He's not afraid at all, it doesn't matter where he plays, has a lot of experience. He is an important guy for us. All the season, he has played outstanding."
It is a far cry from the error strewn displays ex-Valencia man Otamendi and Stones – a £47million signing from Everton – turned in last season.
Then, Stones often found a champion in his manager when his willingness to build attacks from the back played himself and City into trouble.
As the Premier League leaders continue to click through the gears at the other end of the pitch, with 39 goals in all competitions, the fact that the 23-year-old is no longer a regular discussion topic speaks volumes for Guardiola.
"John, last year, every game it was always one or two mistakes with the ball and [he was] always distracted," Guardiola said, his defence having only been breached four times in the league.
"This season he is always focusing with the ball. I know his quality but he is improving."
The character shown by his centre-backs is something Guardiola knows his side will need in order to maintain the early purpose of their bid for glory.
In 2016-17, City won their first 10 matches at home and abroad before hitting trouble in October. By the turn of the year, they had faded from the title picture.
Guardiola was heartened by his players' response under pressure as they ground out a 2-1 win over Napoli in midweek but expects the biggest test of a team ever more in tune with his methods will come whenever their blistering early run is derailed.
"That is going to happen," he insisted. "We cannot expect, now we are in October, to finish the season how we started and in the last month when we won all the games.
"That is impossible in football at the high level. But I want to see that, I want to see how we are going to react in that moment when we drop points, how strong we are.
"The big teams always show in the bad moments. When we are winning by three or four it is important but it doesn’t count too much. In the bad moments, it counts how we react."
|Chile need goals from Sanchez despite United form - Rueda|
|Modric reveals Ronaldo respect, ´will never play with´ Messi|
|Osaka can be one of the greats, says coach Sascha Bajin|
|Liverpool´s Naby Keita carried off injured in Guinea match|
|Duminy to miss Australia tour for shoulder surgery|
|F1 Raceweek: Ferrari ready to ´challenge the impossible´ as Hamilton nears title|
|Umesh replaces injured Thakur in ODI squad|
|IAAF delay implementation of testosterone ruling amid Semenya challenge|
|Fakhar and Sarfraz lead Pakistan recovery after Lyon blitz|
|Japan see off Uruguay in seven-goal thriller|
|Arda Turan given huge fine by Istanbul Basaksehir after alleged brawl with singer|
|Busquets no better or worse than Dier – does Opta data back up Allardyce claim?|
|United boss Mourinho charged for alleged post-match comments by FA|
|Halep withdraws from Kremlin Cup ahead of WTA Finals|
|Renato Sanches eager for further Bayern Munich minutes|
|Nations League standings: Promotion, relegation and race for finals|
|Windies coach Law banned for ´inappropriate comments´ in India Test|
|Carrick denies Manchester United stars are ´not trying´|
|Ferrari struggling under pressure of chasing Mercedes, says Massa|
|Australia desperately need Smith and Warner back - Warne|
|Draxler warns Germany: Mbappe has 300 hp!|
|Draymond Green says Warriors will have to ´bring it´ every night in the West|
|England´s ´wonderful bravery´ leaves Southgate excited for the future|
|Jayasuriya: I always conduct myself with integrity and transparency|
|Northern Ireland stars hurt by lack of club football, says O´Neill|
|Rodgers inspires late Packers comeback|
|Brewers blank Dodgers to take 2-1 NLCS lead|
|Cavaliers, Nance agree to four-year extension|
|Ramos wants Spain to believe in Luis Enrique´s team|
|De Laurentiis: I´ve spoken to Genoa and agent about Piatek|
|Kaka tips bright future for Paqueta after Milan agreement|
|Suns star Booker set to return for season opener|
|Warriors coach Kerr not expecting fast start from NBA champs|
|Fultz to start for 76ers as Brown eyes NBA Finals|
|Maltese champions Valletta want Usain Bolt|
|It would have been normal to kill them! Luis Enrique slams abysmal Spain|
|Seahawks, Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen dies aged 65|
|Red Sox ace Sale released from hospital, still set for game five|
|Beer-throwing fan banned by Patriots|
|Southgate lauds ´tremendous´ attackers after famous Spain win|
|Djokovic closing in on summit as he scales new heights|
|Monaco the natural move for Henry - Martinez|
|Ending England drought a ´beautiful feeling´ – Sterling|
|Halep to face Pavlyuchenkova in Moscow comeback|
|NBA 2018-19: Five non-LeBron James storylines to follow|
|Spain 2 England 3: Kane inspires Three Lions as Sterling ends drought in style|
|Bosnia-Herzegovina 2 Northern Ireland 0: Dzeko double leaves O´Neill´s side on the brink|
|Mannarino stops the rot in Moscow|
|Neymar pleased Brazil will not face Messi in Argentina clash|
|Buccaneers fire defensive coordinator Mike Smith after loss to Falcons|
|´Surprised´ Deschamps accepts he could´ve made more effort with Koscielny|
|Kuwait 0 Australia 4: Socceroos deliver win for new coach Arnold|
|Van Dijk fit for Liverpool return - Koeman|
|NBA 2018-19: Eastern Conference predictions|
|NBA 2018-19: Five rookies to watch|
|Denly replaces injured Dawson in England ODI squad|
|Low confirms under-fire Neuer to start against France|
|NBA 2018-19: Western Conference predictions|
|Bolt offered two-year deal by European club, says agent|
|NBA 2018-19: LeBron the Laker - what it means|
|Griezmann ahead of Mbappe for Ballon d´Or - Modric|
|Billy Vunipola ruled out with fractured arm|
|Get the chequebook out! - Mayweather talks up potential Khabib clash|
|Amla ruled out of Australia tour|
|Class act Hamilton more complete than ever - Wolff|
|NBA 2018-19: It´s a big season for - Ball, Kawhi, Carmelo, Love & Cousins|
|Bellew: I have no fear of Usyk|
|Birthday boy Ozil is the most creative player in Europe|
|CSA reveals De Villiers and Rabada involved in Mzansi Super League|
|FA condemns England supporters involved in trouble in Seville|