Barcelona's moments of hope have been all too distant amid a season of collective woe.
The club's off field financial issues are now well-documented, to the point where key squad deficiencies that could be resolved by straightforward, cost-effective transfers such as Eric Garcia from Manchester City or Memphis Depay from Lyon can't be funded.
The rays of light have been the introduction of Pedri, the 17-year-old wonderkid with a bright future, and the likes of Francisco Trincao ans Ansu Fati (prior to his injury) being given consistent minutes.
But these have been few and far between and there's much to ponder for the Blaugrana with the majority of this season still to come.
Messi wouldn't get his wish but the shadow of that unpleasantness still hangs over Camp Nou. The Argentine has just a single goal from open play in well over 1,000 minutes - not for the want of trying - and the dynamic with Antoine Griezmann still isn't working nearly 18 months after his transfer.
European results have been fine, though Juventus were under-strength and a coronavirus-hit Dynamo Kiev almost snatched a draw. But in the league, Getafe's staunch, tactically-drilled defensive unit easily kept out Barca's sterile attack.
In Alaves, 10 men defended effectively for nearly 45 minutes and, once again, Barca didn't have an answer. And in the Clasico, Real Madrid's old heads won the day, Sergio Ramos masterminding a smash-and-grab.
Barca's defence is unbalanced and ridiculously susceptible to the counterattack. Frenkie De Jong is enjoying his best spell in Spain but he's been forced to deputise at centre-back at times due to injuries and the lack of cover in that position. Ronald Koeman is working hard but the pieces aren't fitting together, and Fati being out until March only exacerbates the problem.
Barcelona moves in
Barcelona moves out
The dysfunction passes over into the their transfer activity. Money had to go out before anyone could be brought in, and the baffling Arthur/Pjanic deal, which was effectively a swap, was carried out purely for accounting purposes, a sign of the times.
Dest already looks like good business and Trincao has some skills that need to be developed, but Koeman desperately wanted Depay only to be denied by the board even at £25m, while Eric Garcia, who openly wants to return, would have provided the desperately-needed defensive cover that is still missing.
Barcelona: Grade D
It's not a disaster - yet. But the financial issues cannot be overlooked and the fact that discussions continue to negotiate a 30% salary cut with the playing staff cannot be overlooked. Things are not rosy even if Josep Maria Bartomeu's presidency is effectively over.
Koeman is at least trying to give youth a chance and Pedri, Trincao and Fati could form a devastating trident in the future. But it's not there yet, not by a long shot, and the burning question of Messi's future is unlikely to be resolved this side of Christmas.
Both Barca and Real Madrid are susceptible for the first time in well over a decade, and Atletico Madrid are very much positioned to challenge. And it's difficult to see how Barca find the rhythm required for this season to end successfully.