After miracle vs. PSG, do Barca have enough magic left to beat Juventus?
On a week that is expected to be hyper-difficult for Spanish football, it was a major boost for this country's sporting spirits that Sergio Garcia won his first golf major in such heroic style. Pride, adrenaline, technical brilliance, belief, inspiration: all were on display.
For Barcelona's players, who'll be sent home with their tails well between their legs if they try to repel Juventus with the disjointed, lackadaisical football they produced in Saturday's 2-0 defeat at Málaga, it's just their tough luck that Garcia is a dyed-in-the-wool Madridista. Not quite so much inspiration for them there.
But let's be honest: You'd need to have had a glass eye not to shed a wee tear of emotion as Sergio won the Masters at Augusta in such dramatic fashion on what would have been the 60th birthday of his maestro, Seve Ballesteros. Sometimes sport produces moments that unite skill, desire, prayer, history, personal drama and spectacle in ways fictional drama can never aspire to match. Sunday night was precisely that.
Seve mentored, prodded, inspired and adored younger bucks like Chema Olazabal and Garcia. He was taken from us far too early, so for those events to take place in Augusta on what was the 60th anniversary of his birth seemed "meant to be."
Now, Seve was a Barça fan, and the last time any of this squad saw the great man, twice a Masters winner, was August 2010. Gerard Piqué, Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta are the only ones left from Pep Guardiola's team that day which thumped Racing Santander 3-0 on the opening day of that season. Santander, in Spain's fiery north, was home territory for Seve, and the Barça squad were just thrilled that the great man, who already knew that his cancer remission wasn't lasting and that time was short, came down to the dressing room to see his heroes one last time.
As soon as he emerged through the door, Guardiola's players rose to their feet and applauded him for a full minute. Until he cried. By May, three weeks before what many consider the greatest Champions League performance of all time, Seve died. He never saw that team reach its apex against Manchester United at Wembley.
Sergio, a great little terrier of a golfer and sublimely talented, will have thought of his mentor on Sunday as he conjured up that magical eagle on 15 to haul him back into real contention. Three shots of which Seve would have been so proud: brilliant technique produced in adversity. But Ballesteros wasn't just famous for his five majors, nor for the fact that he was The Godfather of the European tour as the Ryder Cup once again became competitive. I think the world loved him most for his maverick nature, his refusal to believe that any geographical feature, whether trees, car parks, roads, burns or rough, could contain him.
There may have been other golfers who won five majors, 43 European tour events, nine Ryder Cups and nine PGA trophies while putting in more "against-the-odds," win-despite-the-circumstances performances than the mighty Seve. But if there were, I didn't notice them.
So it's to Ballesteros, rather than Garcia, that Luis Enrique's footballers need to turn if in their quiet moments in Turin before playing the Italian champions they are looking for inspiration, guidance and touchstone memories.
Frankly, Seve would have been ashamed of them in Málaga on Saturday night. Dealt the bad hand of needing to win without three players (Pique, Ivan Rakitic and Rafinha) who would normally have started and with Andres Iniesta "protected" on the bench, they suffered further when Neymar was sent off. But they showed the same bewilderment, the same "we are victims of circumstances" attitude, the same lifeless acquiescence that was also present in their away defeats at Manchester City, Celta, Deportivo La Coruña and PSG this season.
Seve loved adversity; he thrived on it. He used it to motivate himself; often, he found it sparked an "I'll show them!" reaction that coursed through his body and transmitted, by osmosis, to us spectators.
Now don't get me wrong. These same elements have been present at Barça for most of the years between 2008 and now. Four coaches have been in charge during those nine years and the squad has carried on metronomically winning big trophies. That doesn't come from talent alone, nor from technique.
This Barcelona era looks more and more like it's either ending or perhaps moving into a transitional stage but the fact that it's lasted this long is as much due to the durable, mean-eyed, competitive determination of people like Piqué, Carles Puyol, Eric Abidal, Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez and Sergio Busquets as to the nimble, inventive brilliance of Xavi, Iniesta, Messi and Neymar.
They've never lacked the guts for glory -- or at least not for long. Right now, however, there's a repetitive strain not only that teams can sometimes outwork Barcelona, but that they can believe more, show that they want a win more and can render Barça more like spectators than participants. Particularly on the road.
As good and as in-form as the Italian champions present themselves to be, there's no question that, man for man, Barça have the better starting XI than Max Allegri's team. Yet will there be many outside the most loyal of travelling Catalan fans who genuinely believe that after a merited beating at Maálaga and a good period of the second half spent chasing the game with 10 men, Barcelona are anything except up against it on Tuesday night? Anything that isn't a firm defeat could be treated as an exceptional result.
Juve's latest starlet, Paulo Dybala, agrees with me. He was daring enough to tell reporters at the weekend: "we are better than them." It wasn't the usual nice guy PR speak that teams use to talk about each other in the build-up to a quarterfinal. I'm guessing he simply said what Juve fully believe.
Some of the factors with which Luis Enrique must juggle include the absence of Sergio Busquets and choosing the playing formation correctly. They are intertwined concepts. The 3-4-3 that has had spectacular success at the Camp Nou is a system designed, pure and simple, to facilitate Messi playing with freedom between midfield and attack. If he does this, as I explained at length earlier this season, without the coach adapting the system, then Barcelona become disjointed.
The player who overlaps into the right-wing position of the front three to balance Messi's absence either leaves a gap in midfield or in defence. If nobody does, the opposition left-back is then free either to crowd Barcelona's attacking space or launch counterattacks. A defensive line of three can leave gaps at full-back, the specific areas where Juventus love to do damage, but gives added competitiveness in midfield: there's better pressing, better ball retention and better ball recuperation.
Three strikers plus Messi "free" adds great menace and makes the opposition defence think twice about playing out from the back. All of which would be fine if the natural replacement for the suspended Busquets wasn't Mascherano, who would then not be available to populate the most appropriate back three with Samuel Umtiti and Pique. If you'll allow the metaphor, this is where Seve would scrap, dig deep, invent, improvise and then scrap once again.
Does this group still possess that spirit? Are they as committed to going through to the semifinal as they were committed to not going out meekly against PSG in the last round?
Some of the answers will depend on how much of the Seve Ballesteros spirit Barcelona, his favourite team, can conjure up on a night when in golfing terms, they have a horrible lie tucked in behind some trees and their opponent is just a gentle wedge shot away from the pin.
Graham Hunter covers Spain for ESPN FC and Sky Sports. Author of "Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World." Twitter: @BumperGraham.