Pep Guardiola said there is no way Manchester City will be taking Chelsea lightly when the two sides meet in a Premier League encounter at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
City and Chelsea have been English football's two most successful clubs over the past 10 seasons; City have won six league titles in that time and Chelsea two, while the London side have also lifted the FA Cup, League Cup, Europa League, Champions League, and Fifa Club World Cup trophies.
City have captured an additional nine major trophies in the last decade, including six League Cups, two FA Cups, and last season's Champions League as part of their historic treble season.
However, the two heavyweights have been in vastly different positions recently. City sit top of the league table as they aim to win a fourth straight title, while Chelsea continue their rebuild under Mauricio Pochettino and lie in 10th having placed 12th last season in their worst league finish in almost 30 years.
Despite the current gulf between City and Chelsea, Guardiola insisted the Blues are one of the strongest teams in the division and he is wary of the threat they will pose at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
"Chelsea remain one of the most important teams in England," he said. "They won the Champions League under [Thomas] Tuchel against us [in 2021]. It's true they were not close to winning the Premier League in these seasons but they are one of the strongest teams, no doubt.
"I've seen the last games. They are alive, they have a good spirit, they're aggressive and have good patterns. The quality is there. It's one of the toughest games we have during the season.
"At the same time we will go there optimistic. We have to try to maintain the level of our game but sooner or later Chelsea will be there fighting for titles, no doubt about that."
Chelsea enter Sunday's game following Monday's chaotic 4-1 win over nine-man Tottenham Hotspur – only their fourth win in 11 league games, but a morale-boosting victory nonetheless.
While the win over his former club provided a much-needed three points, Pochettino is aware that Chelsea will face what he described as the "best team in the world". That said, the Argentine insisted Chelsea should never have an underdog mentality given the club's recent history of success.
"For me [City] are the best team, have the best coaching staff and the best manager," Pochettino said. "We need to tell the truth – it is one of the best organisations in the world.
"When you have the results you are showing it's because from the top to the bottom you are doing things really, really well.
"Chelsea never have that feeling of being an underdog," he added. "The feeling is always 'you are Chelsea'. It is impossible, the history is there. But I think we cannot go and say 'we are the big team of the day' on Sunday.
"We need to go there trying to be protagonists, with our personality, with our character."