REUTERS: Manchester City's home clash with Liverpool offers the first chance for the two Premier League title favourites to go head-to-head this season but Pep Guardiola believes this year's race will have many more contenders.
City and Liverpool went toe-to-toe in an unprecedented battle in 2018-19 before City claimed the title with 98 points to Liverpool's 97 but Liverpool walked away with it last season.
This campaign has already proven to be unpredictable with leaders Liverpool suffering a 7-2 defeat by Aston Villa and City, down in 10th place, winning only one of their opening six.
"(Liverpool) are the biggest favourite but with the pandemic the situation is a bit different," Guardiola told reporters ahead of Sunday's clash at the Etihad.
"I see other teams strong, Leicester (City) maintained the level from most of last season, Arsenal made a big step forward to be contenders and Tottenham (Hotspur), (Jose) Mourinho has the team what he wants.
"Chelsea in the beginning is so stable now and has a huge squad for rotating top players. (Manchester) United in this moment is not in terms of results but we saw the quality they had last season, we suffered a lot in results and up front they are incredibly fast and clinical.
"I think this season will be a lot of teams being there the last five to 10 games will be important to arrive being there to fight for the title."
City will be without injured striker Sergio Aguero but Gabriel Jesus is fit for Sunday's clash, which Guardiola says is important but far from decisive even if defeat would leave his side eight points behind Juergen Klopp's team.
"It is an important game but like presidential elections in the USA all the votes must be counted," the Catalan said. "A lot of points to play for.
"It's always nice to play against the strongest teams and last year they were stronger. They are an exceptional team, they have had the same manager for a long time and it is nice to face him all the time to improve our level."
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge)