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Many Bernabeu stars have under-performed against the Catalans, but the German has in particular disappointed. investigates his previous encounters with La Liga holders

By Clark Whitney and Claas Philipp

Last season, no player in Europe’s top leagues assisted as many goals as Mesut Ozil. In his first term at Real Madrid, the young playmaker captured the hearts of the Bernabeu faithful, relegating former Fifa World Player of the Year Kaka to little more than an afterthought.

This season has not gone so swimmingly for the Germany international, however. Statistically, he has only had a minor drop in form. But there were greater expectations for the player as he, like his team, sought to affirm his class in 2011-12.

The one barrier Real Madrid have struggled to overcome has been arch-rivals Barcelona. Following Supercopa disappointment late in the summer with a narrow loss over two legs, Jose Mourinho’s men have been defeated in their last two meetings. But the losses have been extra bitter for Ozil, who following hefty criticism has been used only as a substitute on both occasions.

In just over a year and a half, Ozil has participated in nine Clasicos, with mixed results. Ahead of his 10th appearance in the high-stakes rivalry, profiles the 23-year-old’s performances in Spain's greatest fixture.

La Liga: Matchday 13
November 29, 2010
Ozil: off (46')
In what was a first Clasico not only for Ozil, but coach Jose Mourinho and team-mates Angel di Maria, Sami Khedira and Ricardo Carvalho, Real Madrid were humbled as Barca ran out 5-0 victors. The ineffective Ozil was pulled at half-time with the score 2-0: “His pitiful performance pulled the team into the abyss,” read the headline in Marca the following day.

La Liga: Matchday 32
April 16, 2011
Ozil: on (57')
Ozil was relegated to the bench for his second Clasico, but was given the chance to prove himself shortly before the hour mark, when he replaced Karim Benzema. He struggled to have an impact at first, but started the attack that led to Marcelo winning a penalty that saw the hosts equalise. The 1-1 draw was not enough to save the Blancos’ title hopes, but was encouraging for the German playmaker, who ultimately helped turn the game.

Copa del Rey: Final
April 20, 2011
  0-1 (A.E.T.) 
Ozil: off (70')
Ozil will always remember his third Clasico, the first - and only, to date - in which he was on the victorious side. The Gelsenkirchen native was re-inserted in Mourinho’s starting line-up and justified his inclusion as he played an array of brilliant balls to Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe, and Sami Khedira. In the end, he was very unlucky not to earn at least a couple assists before his substitution on 70 minutes, but in extra time, Ronaldo finally converted and Ozil was able to lift the Copa del Rey trophy.

Champions League: Semi-final
April 27, 2011
Ozil: off (46')
Ozil was unable to maintain his momentum in his fourth Clasico, which ended in a 2-0 defeat. The playmaker was probably the poorest player on the pitch, and was replaced at half-time, having barely touched the ball.

Champions League: Semi-final
May 3, 2011
Ozil: on (60')
For the second leg of the Champions League tie, Ozil was again only able to feature as a substitute. The visitors improved after his introduction, and Marcelo equalised within minutes. It was too little, too late, however, as Los Blancos crashed out of Europe’s elite competition, having lost 3-1 on aggregate.

Spanish Supercopa
August 14, 2011
Ozil: started
Before the start of the season proper, the Liga and Copa winners met in the Supercopa. The first leg was by far Ozil’s best game against Barcelona: the playmaker scored an early opener and was at the heart of nearly every attacking move his side had, including a gilt-edged chance he put onto Benzema’s head. The match ended in a draw, but for Ozil it was like a win: to date it is the only Clasico in which he has played the full 90 minutes.

Spanish Supercopa
August 17, 2011
Ozil: off (78')
The second leg of the Supercopa was as exciting as the first, although for Ozil it was not quite as memorable an experience. The No. 10 did not have a poor game: he had some nice touches and stung Victor Valdes’ gloves with a powerful shot. But ultimately he could not provide the cutting edge before being substituted, and Barcelona took the trophy following a 5-4 aggregate victory. At the end of the match, in a melee, Ozil was shown a red card.

La Liga: Matchday 16
December 10, 2011
Ozil: off (58')
As the first leg of the Supercopa started, so did Ozil’s eighth Clasico. The German was part of a high-pressing front line, and within 21 seconds, a Victor Valdes mistake led to an Ozil shot on goal that was deflected before Karim Benzema finished to put the hosts ahead. Things went awry quickly for both Ozil and Real Madrid as the player was replaced before the hour mark, and Barca came back to score three unanswered goals. After the match, El Mundo Deportivo slammed the German, who had “zero motivation,” and “again gave the team no shine.”

Copa del Rey: Quarter-final
January 18, 2012
Ozil: on (66')
Mourinho again left Ozil out of his starting line-up, and the plan worked, at least initially. Ronaldo opened the scoring early, but shortly after half-time, Carles Puyol restored parity. Ozil was introduced with 24 minutes left to play, but by that time, Barca were approaching top gear.  The former Schalke man had a few nice touches, but nothing more, as Eric Abidal’s winner put the Catalans in pole position to advance following the first leg.

In nine Clasico matches since taking on the position of head coach, Mourinho has shuffled and re-shuffled his tactics in search of a winning formula. But only once has his side come out victorious - and only after 30 minutes of added time - while Barca have taken the spoils on five occasions.

Much was expected of the Portuguese coach, of Ronaldo, Kaka, Ozil, Benzema and Angel Di Maria, who were brought in to curb Barcelona’s hegemony in Spanish football. But to date, none of the above have been able to assert themselves on a regular basis. And Ozil in particular has, on average, under-performed, prompting some to ask whether he has the makings of a Clasico hero.


Age: 23

Contract until: 2016
Position: Attacking midfield

Market value: €32 million

 Previous clubs:
Schalke, Werder Bremen
Games Minutes Goals
Average Rating
1 1 5.9

The fact is that at Real Madrid, Ozil is forced to adapt his game in a way that does not entirely suit him. His best performances have been for Germany, where he is the focal point of all attacking moves, and the system emphasises off-ball movement: essentially a dream for a central playmaker, who needs his team-mates to make the right runs if he is to provide service. Indeed, it is no coincidence that Ozil’s best performances have come when he has been supported by compatriot Sami Khedira.

But even in a system that is not ideal given his skill set, Ozil must do better: after all, he has on occasion shone in El Clasico. Mourinho saw great things in him in the summer of 2010, and after his first season was convinced enough to entrust the German with the No. 10 shirt. In the past, many have even compared the 23-year-old to the great Zinedine Zidane. But if he is ever to become a Bernabeu legend like the Frenchman, Ozil must take the next step. And for that, there is only one way: to lead his team to victory over Barca.

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