“In Spain play a great game you are suddenly the best in the world,” explained Mesut Ozil in early November, when forced to respond to critics within the Spanish press.
The German international was stuttering at the beginning of the campaign, much in the same vein as his Real Madrid teammates. The 24-year-old lacked his renowned consistency, his first assist of the season not arriving until October - a setup for Cristiano Ronaldo to earn a point against Barcelona at Camp Nou.
In stark contrast to his early form, Ozil’s performance at the Estadio Jose Zorrilla against Real Valladolid last Saturday evening was nothing short of spectacular. The playmaker’s determination, superb dribbling and build-up play with Karim Benzema granted the visitors a route back into a game on the stroke of half-time. Disastrous defending from set pieces had allowed journeyman striker Manucho to give Valladolid the lead either side of a Benzema strike. The former Werder Bremen midfielder’s class then allowed him to seal a crucial victory for the Merengues after the interval, with a perfect curling shot from a free-kick.
Ozil’s thesis on the domestic media in the Spanish capital has proved correct, as they have deservedly showered him with praise in the aftermath of the 3-2 win. Links with January moves to the likes of Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain have also cropped up. However, he will take heart from the fact he has been one of his side’s most consistent performers in recent weeks – having a hand in seven of Los Blancos goals in the last month alone.
The chips have been down for Madrid in recent weeks, with very few of their star performers aside from Ronaldo stepping up and taking a game by the scruff of the neck. Struggling to contain the likes of Levante and Real Betis has underlined the issue. The club’s defence has been prone to errors, but it appears that the midfield has been the most problematic area of all this season. The final killer pass from the likes of Xavi Alonso and Luka Modric has been sorely lacking.
Madrid are still chasing both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in La Liga, while waiting to see which one of the group winners they draw in the Champions League last 16.
Ozil’s rediscovery of that consistent edge could be the key to resolving Jose Mourinho’s issues in the middle of the park, and might even be the catalyst needed to kick-start the club’s campaign once and for all.