City have won the league in each of the past two seasons, yet they are now 14 points off the rapid pace set by Liverpool, who also have a game in hand heading into 2020.
While an ageing City squad have fallen below the standards set in previous campaigns, Guardiola is keen to emphasise the impact of key injuries on his team - with Aymeric Laporte and Leroy Sane out for long periods and David Silva and Sergio Aguero also dealing with issues.
Asked what his team must improve on to catch Liverpool, the City manager told reporters: "Work harder, play better and pray!
"With all the squad, yes, [City can compete]. There are some things that we cannot control. We can do what we can do.
"But other issues we cannot control, like what a fantastic team like Liverpool have done so far and other issues. If everybody's fit, we can do it."
Guardiola refused to accept, however, that the failure to bring in signings in the previous transfer window had contributed to their problems.
"No, I think the team is fantastic. I love it," he said. "We have had problems with injuries - these things happen - and then Liverpool are incredible.
"They are the champions of Europe and have dropped two points. After that, we just congratulate them. I know the distance we are [behind] is not what it should be, but it's what it is."
As 2019 drew to an end, Guardiola also wanted to offer a reminder of City's success in 2019 - winning the Premier League, FA Cup, Carabao Cup and Community Shield before slumping to third in the table.
"How was 2019? Now the people say it was a disaster. We won four titles in 2019," he said. "It was an incredible year for us, which we have enjoyed a lot.
"In some games in this last part of the season, we struggled a little bit. But it was an incredible year for us."