Pep Guardiola believes the incredible competition for places at Manchester City is helping bring the very best out of John Stones and Aymeric Laporte.
The central defensive duo have been in superb form the Club this season and together have established a formidable partnership at the heart of City’s defence.
The duo are in contention to feature again in tomorrow’s Premier League clash at home to Southampton.
Looking further ahead, at the age of just 24, the City manager believes the pair represent the long-term future in terms of the Blues' central defence.
But, equally, he says the fact that fellow top-class centre-halves, skipper Vincent Kompany and Argentine international Nicolas Otamendi, are also vying for selection is helping to drive Stones and Laporte to new levels of performance and consistency.
“Yeah, that is idea – that the club has these guys for long term,” said Guardiola of Stones and Laporte.
“But still we trust a lot with Vincent and Nico and we can’t sustain a long season with just both of them (Laporte and Stones), it’s impossible as you can see with injuries. Laporte is at good level. But when you play a lot of cup games and in the Premier League and internationals then you need strong defenders.
"We are going to help them. We are going to grow John and Aymeric. And if they feel that there are two others as good as they are that is the only way. Few people are so strong to be consistent and strong
“One of the secrets of the consistency is that the players know they have to play good otherwise someone will take their place
“The best competition isn’t the opponents – it is within the team. That’s why I am so grateful to Manchester City to provide me with this squad.
“We played nine different players against Fulham than we did at Spurs and we were still so strong. We were stable.
“The players know that they have to be ready to play good to help us remain consistent.”
The form of Stones and Laporte has also been a key factor in helping City register clean sheets in our last six Premier League games.
Another shut-out at home to Southampton tomorrow would create a new club record of seven clean sheets.
And Guardiola said he taking huge pride at how well City have defended as a collective this season.
“We defend so high with a lot of space behind. If the ball is as far away from our goal then we are safe, as soon as it’s in the box then anything can happen,” said the City manager.
“It is important having a clean sheet and how few chances we concede as that shows our stability. I was always focused on defending, the only difference is we do it far away from goal. When you attack good we defend well.”