There have been very few attacking midfielders as productive as Mesut Ozil has been for Real Madrid over the last few years, but the arrival of Isco becomes the first time his dominance and reign in the team’s lineup has come under threat over the last three seasons.
Ozil immediately took over the position that was tailored for Kaka in 2010 and never looked back. In 103 league matches for Real Madrid he has scored 19 goals and added 55 assists. He was a huge part in Real Madrid winning the title in 2012, and pretty much anything good that’s happened over the last three years, which mostly ends up being second place and a Champions League semifinal.
There are still weaknesses to Ozil’s game, despite his prolonged excellence for Real Madrid and the German national team. In a game that’s becoming about players being able to perform in multiple positions, Ozil is one of the few who can’t find success once moved from the attacking midfielder role. Place him on the wing, with defensive responsibilities, and much less efficient player emerges, as we saw in Real’s encounters with Dortmund this season. Unlike Mario Gotze or Marco Reus, Ozil can’t begin on the wing, but has to be in the center of everything to bring his best of abilities to the pitch.
That is why Ozil doesn’t play lower than he usually does as well. He physically can’t be effective when playing in a central midfield role, which is why Real Madrid signed Luka Modric last season, as strange is it might sound. Jose Mourinho wanted more players who can keep possession, thinking about Barcelona and the Champions League. Dropping Ozil out of the lineup wasn’t the answer, but dropping him to a less attacking role wouldn’t have worked out as well.
And there are the disappearing acts, and his lack of ability to convert chances. Give him the chance to set someone up for a goal? He’ll almost always deliver the right pass. Give him the chance to score one on his own? While he is granted plenty of opportunities in the very aggressive Real attack, he rarely converts at the rate he should be.
And Isco might be a threat, but that depends on Ancelotti. Isco is faster, more physical and can play in more positions than Ozil. The question is how Ancelotti takes care of the tactical end. Will he play with wingers like Real Madrid did during the Mourinho years, or will it be the approach we saw during his time with PSG and AC Milan, which uses more central-oriented players, who drift wider according to the opposition – similar to Kaka and Clarence Seedorf playing together.
Isco and Ozil might work together, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the two competing for the same role, and Isco being the one moved around. With Callejon gone and Angel di Maria proving to be not as trustworthy as in the past when it comes to his fitness and ability, the right side is open for takeover. Isco, unlike Ozil, can also play in a more central role if necessary, which he has done a few times for Malaga.
Is Isco in general a better player? Too soon to tell, but it would be safe to proclaim that his previous season was better than the one Ozil had. Will it cost Ozil his place in the lineup? Too soon to tell as well, but that option can’t be counted out.