Neil Humphreys: Barca need Messi magic to end Juve hoodoo
Barca need an encore from the little genius to end their poor Turin record
What it must be like to have Barcelona's "problems".
They're top of La Liga, top of Group D in the Champions League and just a point away from qualifying for the knockout stages, but the Catalan side are not entirely satisfied.
Poor Barcelona. Where did it all go wrong?
Looking on from afar, it's easy to be flippant, but there's a sense around the club that all is not entirely well. Something elusive, something intangible, something, somewhere is not quite right.
La Liga's upside down, back-to-front, helter-skelter of a season has left just about everyone disoriented outside of Valencia, where euphoric fans are savouring the giddy heights of second place.
But the alarming inconsistency of the two Madrid sides has allowed Barcelona to canter to the summit and cover for a number of inconsistencies of their own.
They're winning, but not ruling.
It's all a bit of a snooze on the domestic front, so a Turin tonic would certainly add a spring to the step.
The problem is the Catalan side can't win on the road when the sign reads "Turin".
They head to Juventus tomorrow morning (Singapore time) to face a psychological barrier they cannot clear.
Despite Barca's comprehensive 3-0 victory in the home fixture in September, they've fallen short of victory five times in Turin, drawing twice and losing the other three.
Lionel Messi danced like a prima ballerina on that glorious night in the Nou Camp. He scored twice, terrified the Italian side and humbled the myopic fools rambling on about Neymar's departure and the alleged death of a dynasty.
The nimble magician was magnificent.
But he hasn't scored away from home in the Champions League for a year. He's never tasted victory in Turin either.
The Argentinian has a couple of unwanted personal records in need of breaking and Barcelona could also use the three points, not to satisfy the mathematicians but to appease the sceptics.
In recent weeks, the Blaugrana have relied on the 30-year-old more than ever.
On their official Twitter account, the club posted a photo of Messi hugging goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen with a caption that said the two men were the reasons why Barcelona are top of La Liga.
The statement was neither hyperbolic nor obsequious, just an obvious, incontestable fact.
Messi is busily chalking up PlayStation statistics as usual, knocking in 12 goals in 12 games to take care of business up front.
But at the other end, Ter Stegen has already registered more superb saves than in the whole of last season. Luckily, the German has found the form of his life as those in front of him stumble around in search of a lost mojo.
Victories against routine La Liga cannon fodder, with Leganes kindly rolling over at the weekend to allow Luis Suarez to end his 478 minute-long goal drought, can be misleading.
Passes have looked sloppy in midfield. Possession was uncharacteristically conceded too often. La Liga performances were patchy, but Barcelona weren't punished against inferior domestic opposition.
Juventus will not be so obliging.
The Italian side must avoid defeat, at the very least, to be sure of qualification and they haven't lost a home fixture in the Champions League group stages since December 2009.
Juventus don't do defeats in Turin, but Barcelona don't do victories in Turin either. So this one reeks of a low-scoring (or even no-scoring) draw.
But the Spanish giants, and Messi in particular, may feel they should go one better.
A new contract for the Argentinian should've been settled months ago. The clock is not just ticking, it's deafening.
Just a month from now, Messi can begin negotiations with other clubs for a transfer. He'll be a free agent.
But he hasn't put pen to paper. He won't discuss the issue publicly. The Nou Camp hierarchy is getting nervous, just as one or two suits in Manchester and Paris are sweating at the prospect of a priceless coup.
The unthinkable is still unlikely to happen, but jittery Catalans are thinking about it nonetheless.
A swaggering display from the old master would help to alleviate concerns over his future and get that black-and-white striped monkey off Barcelona's back.
Messi needs one for the road; one mesmerising performance to knock over the Old Lady and end the poor record in Turin.
Juventus' old guard are still suffering from their World Cup play-off humiliation. If the Little Flea can irritate them further, it'll be an Italian job well done.
OTHER GROUP D FIXTURE
- Sporting v Olympiakos