WITH whispers blowing through the blustery Catalan air that the end of an era may be looming here, Gerard Pique stood as Barcelona's fierce symbol of defiance as he demanded that their supporters trust in their greatness at the Nou Camp tonight.
When a potential calamity beckons – and Barcelona failing to overturn Milan's 2-0 advantage would be considered nothing less here – it is time for leaders to front up.
That is exactly what Pique did as he cut through the gloom that has been pervading Barcelona and declared his conviction that the team would achieve a historic comeback triumph for the supporters, for the city and for an absent friend, manager Tito Vilanova, who is seriously ill with a tumour.
And if anyone did not believe, the defender wanted them to know where they could go. "Any fan who doesn't think we can turn it around should give his ticket to someone who does," boomed Pique.
Barca's superior swagger has disappeared this past difficult month, their kaleidoscopic brilliance gone. Lionel Messi fancies the world wants to see them downed, so the cules (Barca's fans) needed exactly the injection of self-belief that their centre-back has never been short of.
"I ask the supporters to look at the last 10 or 15 seasons. We went through 90 years not winning anything important until Johan Cruyff came along but in the last 10, 15 years we've changed the history of this club. So we must trust this team. We deserve all the credit.
"People have a short memory and need to know that this team can win and can do a lot, lot more."
The end of an era? The way Pique sold it, with a robust reminder that Barca also happen to be running away with La Liga title, victory would only be the start.
"We aren't looking to shut up the critics. This season has already been brilliant." It will be more convincingly brilliant if they become the first team in the knockout stages of the Champions League ever to prevail after losing the first leg 2-0. It is a monumental task against stirring giants who are unbeaten this year in Serie A.
Hence the Pique rallying call to fans, half of whom when polled in a local newspaper felt Barcelona would get knocked out.
"The fans always back us if they see we're fighting and I want 90,000 believing in us, believing we can qualify for the quarter-finals." He is adamant they will.
"We'll win 3-0 for Tito!" Pique had already told the Catalan newspaper SPORT. And in that headline lay perhaps both the heart of Barca's current weakness yet, also, the spirit which could be critical tonight.
For Vilanova's absence as he undergoes cancer treatment in a New York hospital is unquestionably one of the main reasons for their slump yet it could also bind his players together for one special effort.
"We trust in him and we love him," said Pique. "It's a difficult situation to be in, without the boss.
"It's like a company without its chairman but we will come through this.
"Tito is helping us from New York and the most important thing is his health.
"We miss him because he's our coach, our guide. Every team needs a coach. But I think Jordi Roura has done a great job."
That vote of confidence in the caretaker was important because it is easy to feel quite underwhelmed about Roura, a popular substitute but one who, from the start, has made it obvious it is not a job he wanted, nor needed.
Is it any wonder he has looked lost in such a weird scenario where the poorly manager sends messages to him from New York during games? Trying to run a match via telephone messages from 4,000 miles away is a recipe for miscommunication.
Hence, the team have often seemed distracted and a little directionless, which is why Roura will be relieved to call on the return of his conductor Xavi, after his hamstring injury.
Much will depend on Xavi reimposing the old snap, crackle and pop rhythm of Barca's passing triangles. The pace and intensity of their movement needs to be rediscovered along with that impatient pressing. Nothing in the nine weeks of Vilanova's absence, though, has suggested the old, urgent, insatiable Barcelona will materialise on cue.
At such a time, the reliance on Messi's genius to flower is ever more pressing after he looked peripheral in the San Siro loss and during the two Clasico defeats.
That is life for the greatest now; when you have just netted your 51st goal of the season, as he did against Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday, it is natural that more is not just expected, but simply demanded.
He does not sound overly alarmed. "There are a lot of people waiting for us to lose so that, like they did last season, they can say this is the end for Barcelona," Messi said last week.
"It's time for us to turn around this situation."
And, naturally, he believes he can.
Yet this Milan side, full of youthful vim and experienced vigour, look ready to be convincing spoilers.
Their inspirational captain, Massimo Ambrosini, described it as "still a 50-50" tie, even if it feels like a 60-40 shot for the visitors.
"Last year we beat Arsenal 4-0 and nearly got knocked out in the second leg," he mused.
Naturally, he did not need to add that Barcelona are not Arsenal.