Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola staunchly defended his squad on the eve of the crucial Premier League showdown with Tottenham - insisting they have absorbed his tactical ideas more quickly than Barcelona or Bayern Munich.
Guardiola won 18 major honours, including six league championships and two Champions League titles, during his time in charge of the two European giants.
He made a flying start at the Etihad Stadium, as City won their first 10 competitive games this season, but a 2-0 loss at Spurs prompted a prolonged and ongoing period of indifference.
Upon coming face-to-face with Mauricio Pochettino once more - a manager for whom he voiced his admiration - Guardiola defended a City squad that appears aged and imbalanced in key defensive areas.
When discussing a squad thrashed 4-0 at Everton for a fourth Premier League defeat in eight outings, leaving them 10 points adrift of leaders Chelsea, Guardiola said: "When you say that they don't have the same quality as Bayern Munich and Barcelona...
"The times we played good, the passing, was much quicker than both teams [Barcelona and Bayern], but we are not consistent.
"We win three games and we arrive at the fourth game and we are not sure if we are going to win and that is a big problem.
"In my point of view, it is now because we arrive in a situation and we don't score and the big teams they score - they have the quality and they are machines, but that is the most difficult thing to achieve.
"They are good players. I have respect for the guys, so why would I say the guys are not good?"
Guardiola insisted his reputation for success in the game should not absolve him from criticism at the expense of his players.
"I don't understand the lack of respect for the professionals when they are amazing players and they are not good enough for me," he said.
"Maybe I am not good enough for them.
"They are Manchester City players, top players, they have a lot of quality. They showed that many times in the past and this season.
"I like to work with them and I want to help them and I am going to until my last day here and I want to stay as long as possible, more than ever.
"I want to stay and help them and [close] the gap between the top and the excellent teams.
"It's hard to achieve to get to the top four, but it's harder to achieve to go from fourth to first. I want to stay here for a long time and help them."
Guardiola's reputation was forged as a developer of youth talent at Barcelona, having helmed the B team at Camp Nou.
His reluctance to throw youngsters such as Aleix Garcia and Tosin Adarabioyo into an ageing first team this season has been noted as a contrast, but Guardiola believes reserve teams in England are at a disadvantage when compared with their Spanish counterparts, who play a full part in Spanish football's professional pyramid.
"The atmosphere in the [U23s] and the Premier League, why we cannot create Man City or Man United second team and not play in the Championship against Newcastle?" he added.
"They would play the second team for United, City, Tottenham and they compete with Newcastle - playing in front of these huge fans.
"That is the future of English football. But they play in this stadium [City's academy ground] and sometimes there is nobody unless it is on a Champions League night."
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