Pep Guardiola admits Manchester City face a much tougher task to win the Premier League title this season, but believes his players must rise to the challenge.
The champions travel to Chelsea on Saturday three points behind the Blues, Liverpool and Manchester United at the top of the table.
Guardiola’s men are also looking to avenge three consecutive defeats to Chelsea towards the end of last season, including in the Champions League final.
Chelsea’s fortunes have been transformed since Thomas Tuchel took charge in January and Guardiola said the German adds to an already stellar cast of players and coaches in the English top-flght.
“I always had the feeling the next year is harder than the one before,” Guardiola said at his pre-match press conference on Friday.
“Definitely the amount of top, top quality, players, teams, managers. It’s an incredible challenge for us. Accept the challenge and go for it.
“I think it’s a big compliment for the Premier League — it has to be so proud for the fantastic league we have. Brilliant managers in many senses, in all the clubs top-quality players, every squad has 15 or 16 exceptional players, the fans are back, so it’s an honour to be here in the Premier League in this country.”
City’s trip to Stamford Bridge kicks off a hugely demanding week for the English champions as they then travel to face Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League before a visit to Liverpool next weekend.
Guardiola was without John Stones, Aymeric Laporte, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Rodrigo due to injury for last weekend’s 0-0 draw with Southampton, but hopes to have at least some of them back fit for the Chelsea clash.
Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden are also in line to make their first Premier League starts of the season after scoring in a 6-1 thrashing of Wycombe in the League Cup on Tuesday.