BARCELONA // So much for the crisis. Atletico Madrid's first home league defeat at the hands of Real Sociedad, combined with a Barcelona's victory against Deportivo La Coruna mean the Catalans moved 13 points clear at the top, the biggest gap at the summit in the Primera Liga since 1999 and one point short of the largest ever lead.
Barca kept their first clean sheet in 14 matches too, with Lionel Messi becoming the first player to score in 17 consecutive games in a top division anywhere in the world.
Few in Barcelona are getting carried away: Deportivo are adrift at the bottom, the only team without an away win all season.
Tonight's Uefa Champions League last-16 second leg game against AC Milan is Barcelona's biggest of the season. They must overturn a 2-0 deficit to the Italians, a tall order.
While the Catalans have not lost a European game at Camp Nou for more than three years and knocked Milan out of last season's quarter-finals and the 2005/06 semi-finals, only four teams have overturned a deficit of more than one goal in the Champions League, the most recent being Chelsea, who lost 3-1 at Napoli last season before winning 4-1 in London.
No team has ever salvaged a two-goal first-leg away defeat without the benefit of an away goal.
The feeling in Barcelona is that if any team can do it then it is this Barcelona. The fans are charged and will hold up 90,000 boards to form a giant mosaic reading Som un Equip! ("We are a team" in Catalan).
The players also know the importance of the game, although they do not want to use up nervous exhaustion by worrying too much.
"The Milan game will be mentally tough," said Daniel Alves, the Barca right-back.
"Our body and mind should be clean. The game is on Tuesday, we should be focused then, not earlier."
They must progress without their coach Tito Vilanova, who is still receiving cancer treatment in New York. The club's form has plummeted from a side who were set to break records to one who have drawn two and lost three of their 10 games since Vilanova's cancer reappeared.
"We really miss Tito," said the defender Gerard Pique.
"We trust in him and we love him. It's like a company without its chairman, but we will get through this."
His president Sandro Rosell was more specific.
"The experts say that 30 days into the absence of a leader there is a decline in performance," he said.
Vilanova's assistant Jordi Roura stands in again in the dugout tonight.
Few are impressed, especially the players who have complained in private that training is less intense, preparation and video analysis poorer.
All of this has sapped confidence and results have suffered, shattering the illusion that this great collection of Barca players can do it all themselves.
The players should be able to raise their game tonight, although they might have to do so without pivotal midfielder Xavi, who is still recovering from injury.
Milan, meanwhile, will be without the striker Giampalo Pazzini, who was diagnosed with a fracture in his right fibula, but it will not be Milan's forward line that is put under pressure tonight.
The question is whether Barcelona can break down the Italian side's defence at least twice to have a chance of a fourth European Cup in eight years.
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE