By Paul Giblin
MADRID, March 9 (Xinhua) -- FC Barcelona enjoyed an easy 2-0 win at home to Deportivo la Coruna on Saturday night to prepare for their Champions League clash at home to AC Milan on Tuesday.
However, if anyone was looking for signs that Barca have recovered from a recent slump in form will be disappointed by a dull game where Barca dominated the first half against a side content to not receive a heavy defeat.
The second period was a tedious affair in which Barca looked way below their best, but which was redeemed by a fine last minute goal from Leo Messi.
A quick look at the Barca side made it clear that coach Jordi Roura had one eye focused on the Milan game.
Xavi Hernandez was not in the side as he struggles to recover from a hamstring injury, but the big news was that Leo Messi was on the subs' bench as the striker was given a rest.
Gerard Pique was also rested along with Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets, but there were places for David Villa, Alexis Sanchez and Alex Song in the side.
Deportivo had problems of their own and the side that is bottom of the table were without their top scorer, Riki.
Despite the unfamiliar looking starting 111, Barca were soon in control and although their play lacked the sharpness of earlier in the season, the chances soon began to add up against an organized rival, that was lacking pace in key parts of the pitch.
Dani Alves saw a shot blocked by Deportivo keeper, Dani Aranzubia after 11 minutes and Aranzubia was to be a key player for his side in the first half, making first a fine double save to deny Adrinao, who had been set up by Christian Tello.
Alexis was then stopped from scoring by a last-ditch challenge from Silvio, who then deflected a Tello cross onto his post and Aranzubia did magnificently to stand up to David Villa, who was one on one with the keeper. As the ball bounded clear, he them blocked Adriano's powerful follow up.
Barca's pressure finally told with just eight minutes left in the half as Deportivo lost concentration after a rare attack. Alves found space to cross and Alexis lost his marker before heading his side ahead.
The second half was a dull affair as Barca's passing broke down against a well-organized rival with attack after attack breaking down on the edge of the Deportivo area and the introduction of Messi, Iniesta and Busquets did little to improve things.
Fortunately for Barca, Deportivo were sadly lacking in ambition and were unable to manage a single shot on target all night.
Messi scored his 40th league goal of the season and extended his record to having scored in Barca's last 17 league matches when he clipped a neat Alexis pass over Aranzubia. It was a goal the second half didn't deserve and Barca will not have lifted fears that their slump in form is over.
The day kicked off with Rayo Vallecano virtually assuring their presence in the Primera Liga next season with a 2-0 win at home to Espanyol. Goals from Chori Dominguez and Piti after 9 and 77 minutes mean Rayo end the day with 41 points.
Meanwhile Valladolid and Malaga drew 1-1 in the Nuevo Zorilla Stadium. Malaga warmed up for their Champions League tie at home to Porto by opening the scoring through Martin Demichelis in the first half before Manucho equalized on 42 minutes to assure a share of the points.