And so the gods looked down from the heavens on a jubilant David Moyes, finally relaxing after the toughest week of his professional career. And the gods looked down on the red half of Manchester, who were permitting themselves a rare smile in a season of frowns and furrowed brows. And the gods said "Right, less of that."
Manchester United will play Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. That's United, widely and correctly regarded as the weakest of the eight qualifiers, against perhaps the strongest, a side currently 1,241 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga, averaging seven goals a game, and the only team in the history of the sport permitted to play with twelve men. Their substitutes' bench is made of warm gold, their manager has three eyes that can see through time as well as space, and they haven't conceded a goal since Hannibal crossed the Alps.
Actually, the facts don't make for much better reading. They're 23 points clear at the top of the league, having scored 74 goals and conceded a mere 12. In Europe, they won five of their six group games — the exception being the final game against Manchester City, when Manuel Pellegrini forgot how to count — and then knocked out brave, heroic, admirable Arsenal without too much trouble. And they are, of course, reigning European Champions.
History isn't much comfort either. Over 90 minutes, United have beaten Bayern precisely twice. The most recent of these, a 3-2 win at Old Trafford in 2010, was a peculiar and frustrating game: United hammered the Germans for almost the entire first half, with Nani in inspired form, and could and perhaps should have gone through on the balance of the tie as a whole. However, Ivica Olic nicked one just before half-time, Rafael got himself sent off, and Arjen Robben scored the killer away goal. The other victory came in 1999 and might get mentioned once or twice in the build-up.
From a United perspective, well, it's not been a great season. But you knew that already. And Patrice Evra is suspended, meaning that the options for marking Arjen Robben consist of Alexander Buttner, an out-of-position Rafael, or a corner flag. Still, despair is not the way. Here, then, are three crumbs of comfort for any United fan that might feel tempted to let misery overwhelm them:
1. Since the European Cup became the Champions League, no side has ever retained the trophy
So they have to go out at some point.
2. Toni Kroos will be playing, maybe
So if nothing else, David Moyes will have another chance to scout the player who is definitely interested in coming to Old Trafford, definitely wants to play alongside Ashley Young, and definitely isn't just trying to maximise his wage packet.
3. It's not Chelsea
Nothing to do with the chance of progression, of course; Chelsea are nowhere near as good as Bayern. But ties between teams from the same country are often miserable things: crippled by hype and parochial sniping, and anathema to the entire point of the exercise. It's the European Cup. Even if it means a thumping, these are the sides you want to be playing. This is the point of the entire exercise. Old Trafford, exciting visitors, loud and defiant under the floodlights. Stranger things have happened.
First leg: Tuesday 1 April, Old Trafford. Second leg: Wednesday 9 April, Allianz Arena.