Here we go then. The ‘all or nothing’ stage of the 2019/20 season. It all comes down to this.
At the moment, we are so near but oh so very far away from lifting the Champions League trophy in Lisbon, but Barcelona are certainly capable of producing the goods in what will be a maximum of four games.
Just 360 minutes from glory. Tantalisingly close, though Quique Setien’s side will have to be at something approaching their very best to be in with a genuine shout of glory.
If you’re a cup half-empty Culé, then the omissions of both Sergio Busquets and Arturo Vidal for the visit of Napoli on Saturday will have already made up your mind that Barça will fall at the first hurdle.
How two of the players that allow the Catalans to exercise control in the midfield being absent is enough of a reason to ensure their replacements and the team as a whole are not capable of winning football matches.
You may be right of course, however, what their absences have done is open up the possibilities.
There’s some certainty to the midfield three that Setien chooses for Barca’s first assignment being Frenkie De Jong, Riqui Puig and Ivan Rakitic.
The latter has become something of a figure of hate amongst the Barça fraternity, but he’s still a reliable foot soldier for the team.
He’ll have his work cut out with Piotr Zelinski, should he start on the right side of a three, but may get some joy if he can isolate him because Mario Rui isn’t going to want to venture forward too much in this match from his left-back sentry.
Napoli are very capable of scoring goals, but they need to be careful not to leave any spaces in behind the full-backs for Barça to exploit. To that end, we might well see a more cagey than usual start from the Partnopei.
De Jong playing in his rightful position should be a joy. He’s been waiting a whole season for this opportunity, and he’s shown for the Dutch national team that, utilised correctly, he is the game-changer.
Indeed, a lot of responsibility rests on his shoulders on Saturday night, and De Jong will be expected to set the rhythm and tempo to Barça’s play.
Riqui Puig is beginning to shine for the first team. Gennaro Gattuso knows all about what the youngster brings to the table so he can’t afford to allow Riqui the freedom of the pitch either.
Even with opponents in close attendance, Puig has the ability to change the dynamics in an instant and we can expect him to be the conduit into a full-strength attack that will take some stopping.
If the result happens not to go our way on the night, pay close attention to how the midfielders perform.
It could be a tantalising glimpse into the future...