Pep Guardiola has assured he has an "exceptional relationship" with Manchester City star Sergio Aguero and saluted the striker as "brilliant" in Sunday's 2-0 Premier League defeat of Sunderland.
Speculation about Guardiola and Aguero having a frosty relationship has reared its head on more than one occasion this season and those rumours were at their most persistent following the arrival of Gabriel Jesus from Palmeiras in January.
The Brazil youngster enjoyed a fine start at City and had ousted Aguero from the starting XI before being ruled out for up to three months with a broken metatarsal in February.
Aguero has been in fine form since getting his place back, scoring five goals in his last three matches across all competitions, including the opener in Sunday's win at the Stadium of Light.
Guardiola told Sky Sports: "I am, and I was from the beginning [of the season], very pleased with the performances of Sergio.
"I know when a huge player doesn't always play there is always a debate, like 'why, why, why?'
"But we have an exceptional relationship; we are honest with each other and I said to him when Gabriel came that in that time he was good and I wanted to give him continuity, but in the future they will both need to play and be fully fit.
"[Aguero's] goals are so important for us. The last game against Huddersfield he played awesome, scored two goals and [on Sunday] he scored another.
"He helped us a lot in our game and our build up, so again he was brilliant. Really brilliant."
50 - Sergio Aguero has now scored 50 Premier League goals away from home, becoming the 21st player to reach this milestone. Nifty.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 5, 2017
The result means Sunderland failed to lift themselves off the bottom of the Premier League table once again and they are six points adrift of safety.
Manager David Moyes had no qualms with the Black Cats' efforts, but warned their hard work must quickly start yielding points.
"When you're in it [danger at the bottom of the table] every day, you see the levels go up," Moyes told BBC Sport.
"We've got games coming up - we don't have to show it, we have to do it."
Moyes also rued Sunderland's bad luck when Jermain Defoe saw a shot hit the post in the first half with the scores level.
"We tried to make chances. The one that hits the post and comes out, maybe that'll hit the inside of the post and go in next time," he added.
"I hope our players understand the position that we're in, but we're not panicking."