FC Barcelona's 3-2 defeat to Real Betis on Saturday was a decisive moment in the race for the La Liga title and will be seen as the moment when Frank Rijkaard's career at the club reached the tipping point: that point in time when the momentum for change became unstoppable and the Spanish and Catalan press, without exception, decided that his days at the Camp Nou were numbered.
With the only question being asked about Rijkaard's future is 'when?' rather than 'if?', tonights game represents a 'must win' but also something of a 'no-win'. FC Schalke 04, a club who have not travelled this far in Europe's élite club competition for almost five decades, are seen as a bit of a pushover by the Barcelona press and therefore anything other than a win for the Catalans could speed up Rijkaard's inevitable departure.
The sad irony is that, as FC Barcelona's pursue a second UEFA Champions League trophy in three seasons, Frank Rijkaard is playing for his future in a tournament that brought so much glory just the year before last.
The heady days of the end of the 2006 season that culminated in that glorious night at the Champions League final in Paris feel like a very, very long time ago.
There is also an added poignancy that the player who symbolised that wonderful Barcelona side of the 2006 Liga and European cup winning season should also now act as the motif for its collapse: Ronaldinho has come to represent the arrogance and complacency that has dogged the side ever since its finest hour in Paris. The Brazilian's absence tonight owing more to lingering malaise than specific injury.
Speaking at last night's press conference, Rijkaard was clearly tired of fielding question's regarding Ronaldinho's absence, and when enquiries were made, the Dutchman replied "I think it has already been said more than enough that he is recovering from an injury and he cannot be with us."
When the inevitable questions arose regarding Rijkaard's own future at the club arose, the Barcelona coach remained impassive, and suggested that recent events may act as added motivation in this, the club's best chance of success this season. Rijkaard said "Deep down nothing has changed. Before every game we have the same objectives: to win, play well and get the result."
He then added, with regard to the intense media speculation: "The headlines don't bother me."
"Now is not the time to think about resignation. We will not start to cry because that is not the way out of this. It is not an easy moment and certainly we have had better times, but we have moved closer as a squad and a few home truths have come out and now is when we have got to start working constructively."
Rijkaard added: "I will be looking for a reaction."
Tonights opponents reached the last eight by defeating FC Porto on penalties in the first knockout round. Kevin Kuranyi's fourth-minute goal handed them a 1-0 lead after the first leg which they held for 86 minutes of the return before Porto's Lisandro López levelled the aggregate scores. Mirko Slomka's side then emerged 4-1 winners in a penalty shoot-out where goalkeeper Manuel Neuer saved two spot-kicks. The Schalke keeper has, incidentally, been strongly linked with a summer move to the Camp Nou.
Schalke had previously finished second in Group B behind Chelsea FC, with a record of W2 D2 L2 – the lowest points haul (eight) of the 16 teams that advanced to the knockout stages of the competition.
Barcelona would be wise not to let Schalke's modest European pedigree (one UEFA cup) cloud their judgement of a side that is particularly strong in an area that has proven to be Barcelona's Achilles heel.
The third placed Bundesliga side have scored 41% of their goals from set pieces, the majority of those headers, courtesy of a number of big and powerful individuals in the side. Barcelona fans will be hoping that the Germans have not reviewed the video tapes of the Catalan's recent 2-2 draw at Almeria or the keystone cops defending at Celtic in the last round.
Rijkaard is certainly aware of the danger, at least, and has clearly tried to prepare his players.
Rafa Marquez, missing in recent weeks through an ankle injury, explained that Barcelona have been doing their homework: "They are a very well organised team and are physically very strong,"
"They're doing very well in the Bundesliga at the moment and it will not be an easy game. I am expecting it to be tough. They are very strong in the air and we have got to be careful from their set-pieces."
While the Barcelona defence represents the weakest link after conceding fifteen goals in their last seven games, at least history favours the visiting side: The two sides have never before met in UEFA club competition but Barcelona have considerably more experience of competing at this stage of the European Cup. This is their tenth quarter-final overall and they have fared well down the years, recording seven wins and just two defeats.
Rafa Marquez represents the biggest question mark over the Barcelona line up. The Mexican has not played in other a month since picking up an injury against Celtic in the last round but he has been declared fit ahead of tonights match. It is thought that Marquez may return to the heart of the Barcelona defence in order to combat Schalke's aerial threat while permitting Carles Puyol to occupy the right back slot in favour of the out of form Zambrotta. Gabi Milito also returns to the side after missing the weekend defeat in Seville.
Eric Abidal also comes under the spotlight and he may lose his place in the side, paying the price for a dreadful performance against Betis on Saturday. Sylvinho is on standby to take his place.
The good news for the beleaguered Rijkaard is that Samuel Eto'o should start after recovering from a calf strain he picked up at the weekend. With Ronaldinho and Messi still missing, the Eto'o will most likely line up alongside the improving Bojan Krkic and the declining Thierry Henry.
Schalke will have to do without key midfielders Jermaine Jones (suspended), Albert Streit (thigh) and Ivan Rakitić (ankle).