As Barcelona approach a potentially season-defining week, they must overcome serious issues both within the club and on the pitch if they are to meet the lofty expectations set before them.
The weekend could not have gone much better for Barcelona. After handing Eibar a 5-0 thrashing on the back of a four-goal Lionel Messi masterclass, Real Madrid lost to Levante, putting the Catalans back atop the La Liga summit and stoking the fire of expectations for the Blaugrana to retain the crown.
With a massive Champions League battle with Napoli and an El Clásico in Madrid with huge implications, if Barcelona are to succeed this season, they must do it in spite of, and not because of, what was once a solid internal club structure.
From the Eric Abidal-Messi dispute earlier this year to inconsistent and odd transfer signings to constant rumors of a potential Messi departure, the once-mighty Barcelona now have the look of a club struggling for an identity, both at board level and on the pitch.
Quique Setién has brought back an ideal style of playing and is trying to return the club to the golden years under Pep Guardiola, but serious doubts exist as to whether or not this group of players is capable of executing his ideas on the biggest stages. They will be tested this week, and despite all that has happened, the expectation is crystal clear; with Messi, the best player in the world, the club and his teammates’ responsibility is to win everything and not waste the final peak years of arguably the greatest to ever play the game.
They will once again lean on the Argentinian and ask that he carry them to glory. If anyone can do it, he can, but this club simply feels too unstable to truly achieve anything meaningful this year, and will have serious soul-searching to do in the summer if they are to conquer Europe again.
Decisions need to be made on an aging Luis Suárez, the potential return of Neymar, and reinforcing the defense, all with an incoming presidential election on the horizon. Twice in a row, with the full expectation of winning the tournament, Barcelona have blown massive first-leg leads in embarrassing fashion, and these losses are beginning to define the modern version of the club.
All in all, this team simply does not have any of the hallmarks of Champions League and La Liga double-winning side, but that expectation persists. Despite everything that has happened to destabilize the former kings of Europe, Messi will be expected to lead them to glory on his own, and should they fail, he will once again feel the full brunt of the weight of that failure.