Gareth Barry claims Manchester City are still fighting to win the Champions League, rather than fighting with each other, despite admitting that the club have been "found out" in this season's competition.
Six months after overhauling an eight-point deficit against Manchester United in the space of six games to win the Premier League title on the final day of last season, manager Roberto Mancini has conceded that City face the "last chance" in their Champions League campaign against Ajax at the Etihad Stadium tonight.
Unless City win all of their remaining group games against Ajax, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, they will again exit Europe's premier competition before Christmas.
Although City have lost against Real and Ajax so far in Group D, either side of earning a fortuitous point against Dortmund, Barry insists that, just as they did in the league last term, the players are capable of pulling off another dramatic fightback.
"We have not performed to the best of our abilities in the Champions League and we have been found out," Barry said. "We have been punished on nights when we have not been top of our game. But we have proved we can do it. This is the same set of players who won the league and that belief is still there.
"The manager has his own way of going about things, but as a group of players, we are going into these games believing we can win them and that we can win the Champions League."
Following Saturday's 0-0 draw at West Ham, City manager Mancini repeated his oft-stated claim that his team are not ready to win the Champions League, citing the club's lack of experience among Europe's elite.
And an admission by midfielder Yaya Toure in French newspaper L'Equipe that there are "rows" and "people with different egos, including mine" in the City dressing room, added further weight to rumours of cliques and disharmony at the club.
With City staring into the Champions League abyss and a second successive group stage exit, England midfielder Barry claimed that the players were united enough to drive the club into the knockout stages.
"Whenever there is a defeat, these things can be thrown at the team," said Barry, who insisted that ever since City had become the richest club in the world with Sheikh Mansour's takeover they have had to put up with negative speculation.
"Ever since this club went through the change, it has had that thrown at it. The big names have come in and, whenever, there are a few negative results, these things are thrown at the players - egos, people can't get on and whatever - but inside the dressing room we are close.
"If you go in the dressing room, we are not high-fiving every five minutes or having long conversations. But team spirit is being professional and doing a job on the pitch together and that is what we feel we have got.
"It is clear we have not performed to the best of our abilities in the Champions League, but that is not down to a lack of effort from the team or a lack of team spirit. Last season showed that we have that spirit.
"But we did not perform against Ajax in Amsterdam and tonight is a chance to put the away performance behind us and put a good one in."
The 3-1 defeat in the Amsterdam Arena, against an Ajax team who had lost their previous group games against Dortmund and Real, ended with full-back Micah Richards publicly questioning Mancini's defensive formation and the confusing tactical changes during the game. Similarly, during the 1-1 draw at home to Dortmund, City were outplayed and out-manoeuvred by the German champions. Fingers were pointed at Mancini's tactics and his recurring failure to outsmart rival coaches in the Champions League.
But with City's squad containing World Cup and Champions League winners, Barry insisted that the players had to take responsibility for the dismal results.
"We are finding it tough to put our finger on exactly why it has been tough," he said. "But it's quite clear that we have not produced our best performances against quality opposition and, when it comes to these games, when you're not producing your best, you get found out and that seems to be what has happened.
"It is a step up because you're -playing top teams every week in the Champions League. It is a really high standard and a different style of -football. We need to adapt better."
Barry highlighted City's 3-2 defeat by Real Madrid as a major setback.
"If we had held on against Madrid it would have put us in a different position and we would have gone into the other games with a different mindset," he said. "But it did not happen and that's no excuse for the performances after that. We haven't played to the best of our abilities."
Despite his own downbeat view of City's prospects in Group D, Mancini has insisted, however, that the competition could open up for his team in the new year if they can somehow drag themselves into a top-two spot.
Mancini said, "Staying in the Champions League can maybe change a lot of things for us because, if we get into the second stage, we will be very dangerous for any team.
"In these six group games, we'll get more experience so maybe we'll have more of a chance of getting to the February stage."