They can watch Thursday’s Champions League last-16 draw knowing they will not see action again until mid-January. By then Manchester United side will have played six times in a manic Christmas schedule.
In the Champions League stats since 1992 Manchester United head the list for most ranking points, most wins and most consecutive appearances (17). But while the great powers dominate this year’s draw as usual there are hints of a wider democracy with Celtic, Shakhtar Donetsk and three group stage-winning Bundesliga clubs challenging the old order of England, Italy and Spain, where Tito Vilanova, the Barcelona coach, has been forced to stand down.
The jolt to Barcelona is less deserving of sympathy than the shock to Vilanova himself, and the news of his illness adds a more poignant human aspect to the sharing out of treasure next May. Schalke’s coach, Huub Stevens, lost his job for much more mundane reasons (four domestic defeats in six).
Yet there is no mistaking the strength of the Bundesliga trio completed by Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, who played Hannover 96 on Wednesday night and will not be seen again until the Werder Bremen fixture on Jan 19.