Out-of-this-world Ozil offers the antidote, but Real Madrid's set-piece sickness still hasn't healed

The German struck two fantastic goals to inspire the champions to a 3-2 win at Valladolid, but only after Jose Mourinho's men had twice conceded from poorly defended corners
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

Real Madrid were in need of a saviour. Jose Mourinho's men froze in the cold conditions at Valladolid and twice allowed the promoted side to move ahead from set-piece strikes, but twice were rescued by the midfielder's magic.

Ozil's form has been constantly questioned in 2012-13, but the German produced his finest performance of the season when his team needed him most, scoring a well-worked equaliser just before half-time after a mazy run and a one-two with Karim Benzema, before blasting home the winner with a free kick 19 minutes from time.


 THE GERMAN IN 2012-13
Madrid had seen a Sergio Ramos strike incorrectly ruled out for offside at 2-2 and Jose Mourinho made a series of attacking alterations in search of the three points, with Jose Callejon and even - briefly - Xabi Alonso dropping into defence, while Angel Di Maria and Luka Modric were both introduced.

But Ozil proved the hero with his two goals and earned praise from Mourinho's assistant Aitor Karanka after the game. "Ozil did well," the Basque said. "But it's not just the goals and the final passes. Today he has done what we ask of him - his work off the ball was spectacular. That's the Mesut that we all know and the one we all want to see."

Nevertheless, it was his work with the ball which proved decisive for Madrid and the German has now emerged as a real alternative to Cristiano Ronaldo when it comes to taking free kicks. His second goal, hit home off the underside of the crossbar, was his second strike from a dead ball for Madrid this season, having also netted in the 2-2 draw at home to Borussia Dortmund. Ronaldo, meanwhile, has scored just one free kick in the last seven months - the first goal in Madrid's 2-0 derby win over Atletico last weekend.

But while Mourinho has options for dead ball deliveries in attack, the Portuguese will be despairing at his side's inability to defend set pieces at the other end. The goals conceded against Valladolid emanated from two corners and Manucho was given time and space to finish on both occasions by a static Madrid back line. It made an already tricky fixture that much more difficult and, at this level, is simply not acceptable.

The stats do not make happy reading for Madrid in that department. Of 22 goals conceded by Real in 2012-13, 11 have come from set pieces. Valencia, Getafe and Sevilla have already taken advantage in La Liga this term to take points off Mourinho's men, while the capital club have also been exposed in dead-ball situations in Europe by Ajax and Manchester City in the current campaign.

Meanwhile, two have come from direct free kicks. Lionel Messi scored spectacularly in the Spanish Supercopa for Barcelona while Javi Lara netted for Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey recently. Those are more difficult to stop, although goalkeeper Iker Casillas was questioned last season after similar strikes by Santi Cazorla and Marcos Senna threatened to derail Madrid's title tilt.

Prior to Saturday, there had been significant improvement on set plays and, aside from Sergio Aguero's dubiously awarded penalty for Manchester City in the recent 1-1 draw at Eastlands (awarded harshly against Alvaro Arbeloa and almost impossible to stop anyway), Madrid had shut up shop in dead-ball situations. Against Valladolid, however, those mistakes were well and truly back. Luckily for Mourinho, so was Mesut Ozil.

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