They left Manchester amid icy rain and arrived in a Portuguese capital swimming in sunshine. Nevertheless, Manchester City's Europa League campaign, however far it stretches, will be played in the shadow of another, more telling contest.
Roberto Mancini insisted that it would be perfectly possible to win the final in Bucharest and see off the constant, draining Premier League challenge of Manchester United, although those in his squad know the margins of error are now very slim.
"We have to be careful and not lose even one more match," said Sergio Aguero. "Even if we draw a game, they could catch us. The Premier League is so competitive and now the matches are harder for us."
As part of the Atletico Madrid side that beat Fulham to win the Europa League two years ago, Aguero has been this way before. At the Vicente Calderon, though, they were not fighting on two fronts.
In an interview with the Argentinian daily El Grafico, Aguero said: "Even if we don't win the title, the fans will still say we had a great season." In the long term he will be right, but to have come so close and be bested by United would take some swallowing in Manchester's blue corner. His father-in-law, Diego Maradona, could not understand why Argentina celebrated their second place in the 1990 World Cup, commenting tartly to his team-mates: "You don't celebrate second place, tiger."
Aguero said: "To win the championship, we have to keep our feet on the ground. We have to respect Manchester United. Listen, we faced them in the FA Cup and lost 3-2. OK, Vincent Kompany was wrongly sent off and we almost drew the game but we still lost. You have to respect them."
When Mancini arrived in the press room in the Jose Alvalade Stadium yesterday, it was to face suggestions that City did not respect Sporting Lisbon, their opponents in tonight's last-16 first leg. For once, the questions were not dominated by Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli, as the absence of the suspended Yaya Touré is more significant. Tevez is ineligible to play in the Europa League.
Balotelli, Mancini said, had been fined for his trip to a strip joint just before City's dismissal of Bolton on Saturday, but for one week's pay rather than two. Just the £120,000, then.Reuse content