Luis Suarez is preparing to return to England for the first time since his controversial exit from Liverpool after Manchester City were handed another nightmare Champions League draw against Barcelona.
It is the second successive year that City have been paired with the 2011, 2009 and 2006 champions and casts immediate doubt over whether Manuel Pellegrini can finally turn the colossal investment from Abu Dhabi into a place in the latter stages of Europe's elite club competition.
City were dispatched 4-1 on aggregate last season against a Barcelona team that have since spent pounds 75?million on making Suarez their record signing. Suarez scored 31 Premier League goals last season but left England after the World Cup finals amid his third lengthy ban in less than four seasons as a Liverpool player. Suarez joined an attack at Barcelona that included Lionel Messi and Neymar.
City, though, believe they have also improved considerably since last -season and, having recorded back-to-back victories against Bayern Munich and Roma to secure their place in the last 16, clearly believe that they are finally building some momentum in the Champions League.
Pellegrini's team are on a run of seven successive wins and should have Sergio Aguero back for the first leg on Feb 24.
"Every tie in that draw is the same, it is fantastic, so we are looking forward to it," said Txiki Begiristain, City's director of football, who spent seven years as a player and then seven years as a director at Barcelona. "We have improved our squad from last season and we have some real quality up front. It's unbelievable. It will be emotional and difficult."
Luis Enrique, the Barcelona manager, quickly warned his players that they will need to be at their very best to beat City. "It will be key to go into the game in top form," he said. "We will look for a win by playing well, but there are games where you can't play the way you want to."
City will be without Yaya Toure for the first leg owing to suspension but Stevan Jovetic has delivered the club a boost after it emerged that he could still return from injury in time for the Christmas period of matches.
Chelsea also received just about the most difficult last-16 draw possible yesterday with a repeat of last season's quarter-final against Paris St-Germain. Jose Mourinho's team were the only English representatives to win their group and could have expected a tie against weaker opposition despite Mourinho's claim that he wanted to draw PSG all along. It will mean a reunion with David Luiz, who became the world's most expensive defender this year when PSG paid pounds 50?million fee to take him from Chelsea to the French capital.
PSG's squad has been hugely enhanced by the financial backing of their Qatari owners and also includes the brilliant Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Like Pellegrini at Man-chester City, Laurent Blanc, the PSG manager, is under pressure to turn the vast funding from his club's -owners into a major challenge to win the Champions League.
Chelsea defeated PSG last season only on the away-goals rule following an 3-3 aggregate draw, having lost the first leg in Paris 3-1. "Last year was an apprenticeship which must not be repeated," Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the PSG president, said. "Chelsea are a good draw for us. I am very -confident. I've got confidence in my manager and in my players that they'll show on the pitch the best of PSG."
The fixture is given added spice by Mourinho's recent admission that he has turned down several opportunities to manage PSG. "I think I can say I was the first option for Leonardo [the club's former director of football]," Mourinho said. "Before Carlo Ancelotti? Yes. Before Laurent Blanc? Yes. I really thought about it, but I was at Real Madrid the first time and the second time I returned to Chelsea.
"The [PSG] players have experience. They played a quarter-final last year. They won against Barcelona [in September]. They have all the conditions necessary, but the Champions League is the Champions League."
Another manager to have turned down PSG is Arsene Wenger and, after facing Bayern Munich at this stage in the past two seasons, Arsenal received a favourable draw yesterday against Monaco. Having qualified second in their group, Arsenal could also have drawn Bayern, Barcelona or Real Madrid but Wenger will instead return to Monaco for the first time since he made his name there as a top European manager across seven seasons from 1987 until 1994.
"I've got great memories of Monaco because they gave me a chance when I was a very young manager," Wenger, the Arsenal manager, said.
The big question for Arsenal is whether all their injuries will have cleared by February, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain the latest concern following a groin problem that is still being assessed ahead of the match at Anfield against Liverpool on Sunday. The two favourites to win the Champions League are Real Madrid and Bayern, who were respectively drawn against Schalke and Shakhtar Donetsk.