Four years have passed since Lionel Messi last reached a Champions League semi-final and his drought has become a source of unease for Barcelona ahead of their latest attempt on Tuesday.
Manchester United are the ones looking to emulate Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Roma by sending Barca out in the quarters for the fourth year running but for the Catalans, another failure would be unforgivable, not least because of the implications for their captain.
“Last season we did the double but we all felt bad about how it went in the Champions League,” Messi said in August. “We promise this season we will do all we can to bring that beautiful cup back to Camp Nou.”
Barcelona’s dominance in Spain has been shaped by Messi, who only this month overtook Iker Casillas as the player with the most La Liga victories, 335, in its history.
Those wins have helped them capture seven of the last 10 league titles, a figure that will surely become eight from 11 next month, given their nine-point lead at the top of the table.
There could be a historic fifth consecutive Copa del Rey too if Ernesto Valverde’s side beat Valencia on May 25.
But in Europe, Barca would appear under-marked, with only one success in the last seven years, three in 10 since Pep Guardiola took charge in 2008 and set in motion what has felt, in playing terms at least, like an iconic era.
The list of clubs etched onto the cup hoisted at the Wanda Metropolitano on June 1 will instead show a decade swallowed up by Real Madrid, whose domestic failings in that period have been exonerated by four Champions League triumphs in five years.
“Obviously it’s infuriating,” Luis Suarez said. “Madrid have made history and it’s a thorn in our side.”