Lionel Messi's Current Slump Will Benefit Barcelona Long-Term

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Lionel Messi's Current Slump Will Benefit Barcelona Long-Term
David Ramos/Getty Images
Lionel Messi rediscovered his goalscoring touch against AC Milan.

Lionel Messi found the net twice in the Champions League as Barcelona swept aside AC Milan this week, which seemed to end speculation about his recent slump. However, there are lessons that remain.

Barcelona were forced to win games without his goals, which can only be of benefit to the team.

The Argentinian's run of four games without a goal provoked an uproar to such an extent that one could have been forgiven for thinking that he was about to be offloaded.

This is the problem with Messi: he has built a career on regular displays of brilliance and now we expect it every week. When he endured a similar dry spell in March, the same questions were raised.

Messi duly answered them and they were quickly forgotten.

Tata Martino and Barcelona have recently attempted to vary their tactics, occasionally dragging Messi back to his original wide role and having him cut inside to exploit any space that way.

This obviously reduces his sphere of influence, but it gives la Blaugrana the opportunity to add yet another dimension to their already dominant line-up.

With Cesc Fabregas and now Neymar in the side, shuffling Messi around may seem like disrespect to a player who has often won games single-handedly for his club.

However, it can only be a good thing for Barca's long-term success that they relieve some of the pressure on the Argentinian. Neymar has proven a good addition with both goals and assists, while Alexis Sanchez has also discovered his own goalscoring form.

Does this mean that Messi isn't needed? Of course not. 

Nevertheless, it does mean that if Messi goes without breathtaking goals for a few games, it should not create the sort of inquisition that recently confronted him and his coaches.

Javier Mascherano addressed this when talking to La Gazzetto dello Sport (h/t ESPN):

It is true that playing more to the right Messi can intervene less than before in the play. But that was just in the Clasico and was only a certain strategy from the coach.

One stage has been closed and another opened. I do not believe that Tata is here to change things, but to look for alternatives, after so much time the opponents know how we play. So we cannot just keep playing in the same way.

Messi's influence is always felt, and his deserved reputation means that opponents must plan for him every minute of the game. This opens up opportunities for the likes of Neymar and Sanchez and makes Barcelona a multi-dimensional attacking force.

These things are easy to ignore when simply looking at the goalscorers. 

Messi remains an integral part of the setup and goals are just one weapon in his arsenal. He has battled niggling injuries this year, which have understandably left him subdued at times.

His relief on scoring the penalty against AC Milan was evident for all to see, so it's clear that he expects as much of himself as we expect of him.

However, if Martino is to stamp his own mark on Barcelona's history, he has to build a team that can function without his star player. Messi's miniature slump has given him the opportunity to assess his progress in that regard.

The signs are encouraging.

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