Kevin De Bruyne believes Manchester City are starting to approach their peak, with the Belgium star stating Pep Guardiola's team were not ready for the start of the 2020-21 campaign.
City's elongated 2019-20 season finished in August, as they slumped to a 3-1 defeat against Lyon in the Champions League quarter-final.
Guardiola's side were given an extra week off prior to starting their Premier League season in September, but their tally of 12 points from their opening eight games was their worst start to a top-flight campaign since 2008-09.
However, City are unbeaten in seven top-flight outings since a 2-0 defeat to Tottenham, conceding just twice during that run.
De Bruyne scored and set up another in a dominant 3-1 win over Chelsea on Monday (AEDT), creating three chances and attempting a game-high five shots.
City have closed to within four points of leaders Liverpool and have two games in hand on the reigning champions, who lost 1-0 at Southampton on Tuesday.
First they face rivals Manchester United on Thursday in the EFL Cup semi-finals - chasing a fourth consecutive triumph in the competition - and De Bruyne has put their early struggles down to a lack of proper preparation owing to a condensed pre-season.
"I think at the beginning of the season we had many difficulties, many injuries, no pre-season," De Bruyne said.
"Mentally and physically, we weren't ready for the new season.
"I think over the last month we recovered a few players, we raised our level, we have won a few matches and we have gone up a few places in the table.
"We still have another eight games in January in all competitions, it's going to be tough, but I think we are ready for the battle and that is what matters."
HOW CITY'S START COMPARED TO 2019-20
After eight games this season, City had scored just 10 goals, conceding 11 at the other end. In contrast, after the same number of fixtures last term, they had scored 27 times and allowed in just nine.
City had a pass completion rate of 87.74 per cent, while 47.57 per cent of their tackles were successful – again, both of these figures were lower than their corresponding numbers for 2019-20 (89.22 per cent and 58.73 per cent respectively).
With eight games played last season, City had created a total of 132 opportunities, with 32 of these counted as "big chances" by Opta.
They were 39 down in terms of chances created by the same stage this term, while they had created 20 fewer big opportunities and only managed 125 attempts compared to 167 last season.
Guardiola's men recorded three wins, three draws and two defeats from their opening eight encounters of 2020-21, having won five, drawn one and lost two up to and including October 6, 2019.