It's the Christmas/New Year break in the race for La Liga, and Barcelona find themselves a full 7 points off their arch rivals Real Madrid, who currently sit proudly on top of La Liga. Indeed, the Catalans are more concerned with looking over their shoulders at the chasing pack.
Having been beaten 0-1 at the Nou Camp by Real Madrid, thereby opening up that 7 point gap in the league, things don't look good. But are Barcelona a club truly in crisis, just going through a sticky patch, or actually quite well placed, despite the defeat?
With fans abusing Ronaldinho and his team-mates at the airport following several poor performances, and pressure beginning to mount on Frank Rijkaard, it seems to be getting ugly.
Furthermore, Barcelona have struggled away from home in La Liga with only two wins - both in the city of Valencia incidentally, against the dreadful Levante, currently cut adrift at the foot of the table and against, the almost-as-bad Valencia.
But whie the case for the prosecution is a compelling one, so are the counter arguments. Are Barcelona really playing that badly and in such a mess?
7 Points off the Lead
True, Barcelona are currently 7 points off the lead at the moment, but any manager worth his salt will tell you that the league is never won at Christmas. The gap seems like quite a large one at the moment but Real Madrid have hardly performed brilliantly over the course of the season themselves.
What's more, the capital club have had a relatively clear injury free run whereas Barcelona have been blighted by injuries throughout the season, including the loss of Eto'o and more recently Messi.
Were you to remove Raul and/or van Nistelrooy, who represent something like the importance to Real Madrid that Messi and Eto'o do for their side, then Bernd Schuster's season may have worked out quite differently.
Football history is littered with examples of team squandering bigger leads than the one currently enjoyed by Real Madrid; after all, last season Sevilla were top but ended up some 6 points off the pace in the final reckoning. La Liga isn't even at it's halfway stage so there is still plenty of time to claw back that lead
Barcelona, in contrast to their sporadic league form, have been excellent in the Champions League this season, (possibly suffering slightly from the AC Milan syndrome?) They qualified unbeaten from their Champions League group with 4 wins and 2 draws scoring 12 goals in their 6 matches, letting in only 3.
They have a decent second round draw after avoiding the like of Liverpool and Arsenal and, although the games against Celtic won't be easy, over the two ties they should have enough to overcome the Scots. That will mean that they are well-placed in Europe and whilst matters could be better in the league the situation is by no means beyond redemption.
Defeat at 'El Classico' Spells Trouble
This is a key point and possibly the one thing that could really count against Barcelona after they fell foul of this rule last season (the Spanish league positions are decided on head-to-head records if two sides finish level rather than on games won) when they finished on 78 points, equal with Real Madrid, but lost the title on the head-to-head results after a 3-3 draw at the Camp Nou and a 2-0 loss at the Bernabeu.
This means that Barcelona have to either actually beat Real Madrid by two clear goals in the reverse fixture later in the season and only make up 7 points on their rivals, or hold them to a draw but find 8 points in other games, or - worst case scenario - lose and make up 11 points.
This, of course puts, tremendous pressure on the squad in that match later in 2008, but a lot can happen in the intervening time and the Barcelona management are no doubt concentrating on other matters, such as improving the squad.
Barcelona were truly poor in that match against Real Madrid, and the loss did indeed extend the gap to 7 points, when it could have been, with a home win, down to a 1 point gap, thus ensuring Barcelona's destiny was still in their own hands.
However, Frank Rijkaard would probably acknowledge that his handling of the team up to kick-off wasn't optimal, and playing waiting games with the press about his starting line-up probably failed to fool Real Madrid but did sow seeds of doubt in the already uncertain minds of Ronaldinho and Deco. Both of them ended up starting despite the latter publicly stating he didn't expect to. In truth Barcelona played like a team that didn't look like it had had much preparation and it told on the night.
The truth is that the gap between the top two and some of the sub-top teams such as FC Sevilla, Atletico Madrid, RCD Espanyol and Valencia CF isn't as big as in previous seasons, meaning that there is every chance that Real Madrid could drop the requisite number of points for Barcelona to still haul them in. Real Madrid haven't been in fabulous form themselves this season, as a 1-1 draw at lowly Real Murcia testified to, and with over half a season to go there is plenty of scope for a Madrid collapse.
Barca Squad In Turmoil!
There is probably an element of truth in the above statement. With so much uncertainty hanging over several players such as Ronaldinho and Deco team unity can hardly have been strengthened through this, thus meaning that the players are less likely to win games through will power alone. A possible lack of playing together in the run-up to the match against Real Madrid probably cost Barcelona during the game and it does look at the moment as if the team lacks unity.
However, the flip side to this is that in Ronaldinho and Deco they have two class players, who have won everything there is to be won at Barcelona and are probably ready for a new challenge. Whilst their form hasn't been spectacular this season they are still valuable commodities on the transfer market both capable of attracting significant financial bids from sides in Italy or England. Barcelona don't want to end up with the squad growing old together so this process of removing some of the "dead-wood" from the Barcelona team is a healthy one that will stimulate new growth.
With several of the other fringe players lined up for moves away from the Camp Nou this winter including Ezquerro, who has been attracting attention from the Premiership as well as his former side Athletic Bilbao, Eidur Gudjohnsen, who, thanks to his excellent recent run in the team could fetch a significant transfer fee from Premiership teams such as Villa and West Ham, and Edmilson, who is potentially moving on to either PSG or Newcastle, the squad will be more manageable and wieldy from Rijkaard's point of view.
This should be a positive, with fewer dissatisfied players having to watch matches from the stands. With an altogether happier squad, there should be more harmony and more contentment generally.
So, there you have it. For every reason that Barcelona could be described as a club in turmoil, there is a counter-balance to the argument. Undeniably Barcelona haven't been as good as they would perhaps have hoped to have been, given the significant investment in the squad over the summer, but they haven't been as awful as some elements of the more sensational press have made them out to be.
Certainly the loss to Real Madrid was a blow, but not a telling one at this stage. There are plenty of positives to the situation that the club finds itself in and there are plenty of teams who would love to have the "problems" that Barcelona have. Therefore there is no reason for any Barcelona fan to view the short or long-term future with any degree of pessimism.