Can Barcelona end 11-day nightmare?
In modern football, clubs are never far from a crisis. The bigger they are, the closer to impending doom. As one of the world's biggest, Barcelona understand more than most. Even failing to win in style is often enough for the vultures to start circling, writing Barca's obituary.
2018/19 began well for Barcelona. They won first four La Liga games as well as defeated PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League. Those results left the talking heads installing Blaugrana as favourites to triumph both domestically and in Europe. Though still early in the season, everything was going to plan. Even the most pessimistic supporters had very little to complain about.
However, the good times aren't always built to last. Barca had a blip at home to Girona 11 days ago. While leading 1-0, they were reduced to ten men when a VAR assisted referee decided Clement Lenglet had purposely lashed out at Pere Pons. Within 16 minutes, the hosts were behind. But they did manage to rescue a point courtesy of Gerard Pique.
Three days later, La Liga's defending champions took the lead away at rock-bottom Leganes. Yet, they were stunned by two second-half goals inside a minute. Unable to recover, the Catalans left defeated.
On Saturday, Ernesto Valverde's men hosted Athletic Bilbao. They hoped to show struggles were behind. The Basque side had other ideas, though, taking a 41st-minute lead before looking like holding on. That was until Lionel Messi, having been rested, arrived off the bench to help save a point. The Argentine set up fellow substitute Munir El Haddadi for the equaliser.
Two points from the last three games is not Barcelona-standard. It came as a complete shock to those who had prematurely awarded this season's honours to Camp Nou.
So what has gone so terribly wrong in such a short space of time? In truth, there are a few answers. Some players aren't living up to their reputations. Barcelona possess world-class talents in almost every position. At least two of them have been in poor form lately.
Once regarded as one of the world's top strikers, Luis Suarez is noticeably struggling now. The Uruguayan has very little confidence in own ability. He is regularly missing chances that in years gone by would have been routine goals. At the other end, Pique is on a torrid run. Again, at his best, the central defender is a match for anyone. However, he has always had concentration issues. In his partnership with the legendary Carles Puyol, the veteran would often talk to him about remaining focused. At present, the 31-year-old needs someone to pull him into line.
Moreover, Blaugrana have never grasped the concept of squad rotation. They either don't rest key players enough or do it too often. It leaves them off the pace, not able to reap rewards at the season's end. Rotating has its place, yet making countless changes means teams have no time to develop.
There has been a shift in attitude at Barcelona this campaign. Messi went public a few times with his desire to win the Champions League as captain. Real Madrid often prioritise European competition. That shows on Los Blancos' roll of honour. They have won four of the last five Champions League trophies, only claiming La Liga once in the last six years. Barca are the opposite. They have secured Spain's top division three of the last four seasons but conquered Europe just once since 2011.
It seems Messi is demanding more. That is perhaps why he was rested for the Athletic game ahead of Wednesday's trip to face Tottenham Hotspur.
Wembley has been a good hunting ground for Barcelona. Two of their five Champions League triumphs came there. Valverde won't risk experimenting against Tottenham; he will turn to the Gala 11. It will most likely include Pique and Suarez.
Barca really need to step things up. Their group could be tight as both Spurs and Inter Milan are capable of causing an upset. Any mistake will be punished. If Blaugrana and Messi hope to win another Champions League, now is the time to prove their credentials. All thoughts of crisis, Girona, Leganes and Athletic Bilbao must be put to one side.
Despite a difficult few weeks, it's hard to bet against Barcelona. Victory over Tottenham would set them back on track.