Barcelona returned to winning ways in La Liga against Deportivo La Coruña on Saturday, registering only their second victory in their last five matches, just in time ahead of their UEFA Champions League second leg against AC Milan on Tuesday.
The Catalan side have been struggling rather a lot in the final third for the past month, with the rather notable exception putting six goals past Getafe.
Even so, failing to break down Milan at all in the first leg of the last 16 in Europe was indicative of their recent ills, with the resolute Italian back line proving too well-drilled to be bored through, by craft, invention or brute force.
They also needed a shift in tactics—moving David Villa central as an out-and-out striker—to beat Sevilla, lost successive matches against Real Madrid and required a Messi-inspired turnaround to come from behind against Granada.
So did the 2-0 win over Depor allay fears that they are losing their edge in attack?
In all honesty, not really.
The first half, to an extent, showed some of the best of Barcelona; despite the likes of Iniesta and Messi being left on the bench, they created plenty of chances and were hugely dominant in terms of possession, but it was far from the fluid and non-stop attack that has decimated teams in the past.
After the break they also struggled to maintain tempo and consistency in their attacks, with bottom-of-the-table Depor coming back into the game—though they themselves never once threatened to stop Barça winning once they had taken the lead a few minutes before half-time.
Messi—of course—added the killer second goal in the second half, but there is no doubt it was another Barcelona performance which left plenty to be desired.
Against AC Milan they will come up against not only an opponent who have far more quality players in their side than Deportivo, but also against a team who have something to hold onto.
That can be a a terrific motivational tool for players, to lead them to play even further above their ability for a period of time—meaning Barcelona themselves will need to raise their game in return.
Barcelona need to score at least twice against Milan.
In addition, they need to do that without receiving a third goal against; if they do so, they'll need to find four goals in 90 minutes in the Camp Nou.
You certainly wouldn't rule anything out while Messi is in the team, having scored in 17 consecutive matches, but that would be a huge ask against a Milan side who pretty much stopped the Spanish side from creating any decent chance on goal at all in the first leg.
Barcelona's best chance is to keep things tight at the back, restrict Milan to as few chances as they restricted Depor to and above all else, be far more composed and prolific when they do create opportunities to score at the other end.
The win over Deportivo provided a chance to lighten the load, if not rest entirely, some of the bigger attacking names in Barcelona colours; those players will have to be at their absolute best to breach Milan's defence on Tuesday and overcome the 2-0 deficit.