Manchester City have been at a disadvantage over the last fortnight, compared to most of their Premier League rivals.
This two-week period is the designated 'winter break' in the Premier League, where most sides are ensured a midweek off to rest and recharge after a hectic schedule. It's not ideal - last season they were guaranteed almost two weeks off - but it's the best the league could do given the need to condense this season's schedule into a much shorter timeframe.
Except, for City, they needed the free midweek slot to play their first game in hand from the opening day, as they take on Aston Villa on Wednesday in their rearranged fixture. So any advantage other teams may gain from resting their players is an opportunity City won't get.
In fact, since the beginning of the season, the only chance for rest among City players was the eight days between Boxing Day and the win over Chelsea on January 3, when nine players were isolating with Covid-19 and the training ground was shut for part of that period. Hardly a relaxing break. They've had no free midweek aside from the ones directly before or after an international break, with most of their first team taking part in an international fixture or three during that time.
So now Pep Guardiola will have to create his own winter break, and the FA Cup fourth round draw that paired City with League Two side Cheltenham provides the perfect opportunity to do just that.
The Robins are flying high in the fourth tier, but that is immaterial to City's superstars. Even if they fielded an entire under-23 side, City could be confident of progressing, given the two wins and a draw in the EFL Trophy group stage against third and fourth tier opposition - and their late, narrow exit to Tranmere would have been different but for Luke Mbete's red card.
With senior players returning from isolation and injury, Guardiola has a perfect opportunity to go strong in the league on Wednesday against Villa, and rest a few key men against Cheltenham. A closer look shows that Guardiola could even field two completely different starting XI's for these games, making three completely different substitutions, too, in order to give each player a game off.
Team One - Aston Villa
Pep Guardiola rarely names an unchanged line-up, going three years without doing so until the West Ham game earlier this season. But if we go with pretty much the same side that beat Crystal Palace, and account for a change or two at the weekend, it gives us a good indication of the options available to Guardiola.
City could temporarily go top of the league for the first time this season by beating Villa, so expect Guardiola to go strong, with John Stones and Ruben Dias in immovable form, plus Kevin De Bruyne at his best and Gabriel Jesus back in the middle, it should be enough to get past Villa. Phil Foden in for Bernardo Silva might be the only change if Guardiola wants to field his best, most in-form XI on Wednesday.
Possible team to face Villa: Ederson; Walker, Stones, Dias, Zinchenko; Rodri, Gundogan, De Bruyne, Sterling, Foden, Jesus.
Team Two - Cheltenham
Guardiola always takes the cups seriously, no matter whether the opponent is from League Two or chasing the Champions League. Still, there is no need to play the likes of De Bruyne, Sterling or Gundogan and risk injury on what will be a less-pristine pitch than the Etihad.
So if he brings in some of his better-performing youngsters, like Tommy Doyle, Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Cole Palmer, there is room for changes in every position, starting with cup goalkeeper Zack Steffen.
Joao Cancelo can replace Kyle Walker (or vice versa), while Aymeric Laporte can return if fit to partner Harwood-Bellis. Benjamin Mendy needs to perform and will likely get another chance. Fernandinho can offer some experience in defensive midfield, with Doyle and Bernardo ahead of him. Ferran Torres has been eased back into action, and this could also be a great chance to start Sergio Aguero, who should be available again after isolating. Cole Palmer can complete the line up.
Possible Man City team to face Cheltenham: Steffen; Cancelo, Harwood-Bellis, Laporte, Mendy; Fernandinho, Doyle, Bernardo; Torres, Palmer, Aguero.
That leaves six players unused in both theoretical starting sides for Guardiola to bring off the bench. Riyad Mahrez and Nathan Ake are the senior choices that offer cover in defence and the forward line, while Eric Garcia could relieve some pressure on his fellow defenders, and young trio Felix Nmecha, Adrian Bernabe and Liam Delap would hope to feature in the cup.
Predicting a Pep Guardiola side is always near-impossible, so it's unlikely he could resist making some surprise selection calls for both upcoming fixtures. But, if he wants to, he could easily rotate his squad so that no player plays more than 90 minutes in the next week - and that would be as good as having a 'winter break'.