Pep Guardiola will not be underestimating Everton when Manchester City welcome the Toffees to face them in a Premier League encounter this weekend, despite the clear-cut gulf in quality and position in the league table.

The champions are embroiled in a taut title battle with Arsenal, with Newcastle nipping at their heels, while Frank Lampard’s side are trying to keep their head above water near the relegation zone, in another battle for survival.

Despite being heavy favourites, though, Guardiola insists his side will not take liberies against their opponents, and has warned his players to expect a difficult test when the Merseyside outfit make the trip over the M62.

“I don’t know what Everton is going to do,” he said. “If they defend deep we have to know how to handle that, the transition from (goalkeeper Jordan) Pickford is so fast. The quality is there – we have a feeling Everton have exceptional, really good players. In this period of the calendar it can be a problem. Just three days after the game against Leeds, which was so demanding. We have to be ready again.

“The last two games against Liverpool and Leeds were so demanding – the high pressing and intensity from both teams, We handled it well.”

Guardiola, meanwhile, revealed World Cup winner Julian Alvarez will return to the club following the new year, having been on leave since Argentina’s victory at Qatar 2022, and that England man Kalvin Phillips could feature against Everton.

“He is coming back fit,” he added. “He is in condition to train at a high level and to play, and after we will decide.”

Lampard, meanwhile, is plotting to bring in offensive reinforcements during the January transfer window to support Dominic Calvert-Lewin, with the gap left by Richarlison still to be plugged for the Toffees.

“We have said this in recent weeks – it’s an area we have gone into a season where we have lost Richarlison and not really had Dominic,” he added. “When you lose that firepower, it is not easy to replace. We will look to see what we can do in the window, to start games and to change games from the bench. We are looking at lots of players.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Manchester City – Erling Haaland

The Leeds-born Norway international continues to shatter records this season. He has scored 17 goals in 11 home games for City in all competitions this season – the last player to net more in a single campaign at the Etihad was Sergio Aguero in 2018-19, with 19.

Everton – Jordan Pickford

The England goalkeeper endured arguably his toughest major tournament performances yet at Qatar 2022 but he remains the Three Lions’ go-to man for a reason. Only Brentford’s David Raya has made more saves so far this season in the Premier League.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– Manchester City are unbeaten in their last 11 home league games against Everton (W7 D4), having lost four in a row against them at the Etihad before this.

– Everton have lost each of their last nine Premier League games against Manchester City – only against Portsmouth have they ever lost more consecutively in their league history (13 between 1947 and 1956).

– Everton have won just four of their 30 Premier League away games against reigning champions (D6 L20), with each victory coming against a different side – Blackburn in 1995-96, Manchester United in 2013-14, Leicester in 2016-17 and Liverpool in 2020-21.

– Manchester City have lost their final league game in just one of the last 21 calendar years (W11 D9), going down 1-0 at Liverpool in 2016. However, the Citizens are winless in all four of their Premier League games played on New Year’s Eve (D3 L1).

– Everton are unbeaten in their last six league matches played on New Year’s Eve (W4 D2), though this is their first such match since a 1-0 win at Sunderland in 2005.