Champions League draw leaves Man City facing a familiar headache
A wry smile on Pep Guardiola's face will have broken into a grin as he saw the path to the Champions League final plotted out.
First, Manchester City were given one of the most difficult quarter-final draws with Bayern Munich being the team with the most pedigree left in the tournament after Real Madrid. Julian Nagelsmann's team may not be in good enough form to be considered favourites for the game, but City will still need veins of ice to make it through two legs against a club with not just history on their side but also possibly Joao Cancelo.
Should City make it past Bayern, a semi-final against Real Madrid or Chelsea awaits. The Blues would certainly back themselves against Graham Potter's men despite their habitual Achilles heel of English teams in the Champions League, yet more probable is another clash against the kings of Europe.
Guardiola knows better than most how devastating Real can be to opponents and, after last year's inexplicable heartbreak in the semi-final, so too do his players. A repeat would be another almighty test of hearts and minds and legs.
There is a cliche that you have to beat the best teams to win the Champions League, but that simply isn't true. On the other side of the draw, one of Napoli, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Benfica will make the final having not had to face any of the top-ten ranked sides by UEFA in the knockout format.
City's manager is also aware of the difficult timing of the fixtures; for the last two years the team have gone straight from an exhausting victory away in a quarter-final to Wembley, where they have tamely exited the FA Cup at the semi-final stage. Here again, should they make it past Burnley they will be at Wembley days after they are in Munich and improvement will be required if they are to stay alive fighting on three fronts.
Champions League draws can be manipulated to sort whichever narrative you want, and the last time City got a particularly favourable draw they were dumped out in the quarter-finals by Lyon back in 2020. It is also worth pointing out that no team will want to have drawn Guardiola's side and the mood in Munich will likely be gloomier than Manchester.
There is no getting away from the fact that City have not had any luck in this draw though simply because they will likely not be able to get any respite in four draining matches standing between them and the final. If they are going to fight on three fronts, they could not have had a harder path.
As Guardiola has said before, everything City have achieved under him they have done without help and they will need to do the same. The task is daunting, although the reward for coming through it would be even bigger.
If City can emerge victorious at the end of this road to Istanbul, not even in Guardiola's nightmares could he be considered a failure.