LONDON • While most pundits are expecting yet another two-horse race between Liverpool and Manchester City for the Premier League, Pep Guardiola believes it will be far more open this season.
Both teams were separated by a single point last term as City retained their title, but the Spaniard feels that Harry Maguire will bring another dimension to cross-town rivals Manchester United.
City had coveted the England international all summer as the ideal replacement for former captain Vincent Kompany, who opted to leave the Etihad on a free transfer, but the champions could not match their neighbours' £80 million (S$134.3 million) bid, making him the world's most expensive defender.
Speaking after his players lifted the Community Shield on Sunday with a 5-4 win on penalties following a 1-1 draw with the Reds at Wembley, he said: "Maguire is an excellent, top-class player.
"We were interested but we could not afford him. United could afford him. He's strong in the air, good with the ball, he can drive with the ball and he's so fast. He has a lot of qualities, so congratulations to United."
While the City boss admitted Liverpool will again stand in the way of City's ambitions to secure an unprecedented quadruple, having already made history as the first English club to land the domestic treble last term, he also tipped United to surprise after their defensive overhaul.
"It is good to see the team (Liverpool) we will compete with, the champions of Europe. They are a top-class team, the difference is minimal, one point last season and one penalty today.
"That's why it's good to play them, to say, 'Guys, this is the team we have to compete against'. That is what we have to prepare for.
"People say we are going to win (the title) again but I don't care. I don't know if it will be like last season with only two challengers, I think there will be many more.
"There are five or six teams who are contenders, then after, the competition will talk.
"For United, it doesn't matter what has happened in the last four or five years, they always start as contenders.
"They will go higher with the players they have bought. And Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham (will also challenge)."
With a 10-month war of attrition looming as City try to defend the domestic trophies and wrestle the Champions League away from Liverpool, Guardiola, who revealed forward Leroy Sane was taken off as a precaution, was also encouraged with the way his team dominated in the first half.
"The hunger is there for this part of the season. The game was tremendously demanding.
"We had a really good first half but after that, we couldn't control the switch of play, the long balls," he said. "For this part of the season, that is normal. The calendar is crazy with the Copa America and the African Cup (of Nations)."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN