December is fast approaching and the winter break can’t come soon enough for a Barcelona side that have been treading water in some games this season.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that 2019/20 has been as far from vintage Barca as we’ve seen for some years.
Even so, Ernesto Valverde’s side still have a great chance to qualify for the next stage of the Champions League, and are top of La Liga with a chance to put daylight between themselves and their nearest pursuers if the stars align.
Between now and Christmas, the Blaugranes face eight games. Six in the Spanish top flight and two group games in the European competition.
You know what's coming... pic.twitter.com/iXeHCNlA9m— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) November 19, 2019
At home, with the exception of the bore draw against Slavia Prague, the Catalans have been unstoppable. Only Villarreal and Inter have managed to keep them at two goals or less.
But it’s away from the Camp Nou where the team have left a lot to be desired. Defeats at Athletic Club, Granada and Levante are not acceptable, and neither is a draw at Osasuna with respect.
Both of Barca’s next league games are in Madrid, with the first at bottom-of-the-table Leganes. Three points is a must, but it’s in these types of ‘David v Goliath’ ties that Valverde’s side have come unstuck before.
The following weekend will be a battle royale against Atletico Madrid, and how the coach deploys Antoine Griezmann is likely to be one of the talking points of the evening.
Eric Abidal: "Griezmann knows he's not at his best and that's only fixed by working hard.— Goal (@goal) November 17, 2019
"Top players have come here who did not adapt in the first year. You have to be patient. The philosophy of Barca is not so easy."
How long before he finds his feet? pic.twitter.com/OZEVS9Vjbu
Atleti under Diego Simeone are yet to beat Barca in the league, which is a quite staggering statistic, and were he to break his duck on that Sunday night, it will bring the Rojiblancos further into contention at the top.
Sandwiched between those two games is a tricky home tie against Borussia Dortmund, for whom Paco Alcacer will have a point to prove.
Mallorca at home is a game that Barca will be expected to win, but then comes the biggest eight days of the season so far.
Inter away in the Champions League pits us against one of the form teams in Italy and at a ground where we’ve never beaten them in the competition. If a win is still required in order to guarantee progression to the knockout stages, it’s a game that could turn very ugly, very quickly.
A visit to Real Sociedad follows, and though the hoodoo may be over, the team from San Sebastian are certainly playing well enough to do a number on us.
Before Alaves sees us bid goodbye to 2019, there’s the little matter of El Clasico in a rescheduled game that arguably benefits Los Blancos more than it does their hosts.
If Barca can emerge relatively unscathed from that set of matches, then the beginning of the new year can be approached with vigour, purpose and positivity.
Bring. It. On.