When Real Madrid's Mesut Özil was substituted at halftime of El Clàsico last week, even his most loyal fans had to admit that the squirmy German had failed to breathe any creativity into Los Blancos' offense.
The result is well-known: the 5-0 shellacking, to borrow a term from recent political discourse, confirmed the hierarchy in La Liga anew.
Yet the matchup between the two teams was not the only contest under observation last week. Every El Clàsico is a new opportunity for pundits to comment on Messi vs. Ronaldo.
Moreover, for the first time, the global football audience awaited pundits' judgment of Iniesta/Xavi vs. Özil. For the foreseeable future, that debate is settled with Barca's stars emerging as clear winners.
Özil, who had taken La Liga and the Champions League by storm, was not to be seen on the pitch, perfectly contained by Barca's defense.
Gone was the ease with which Özil had set up Karim's Benzema's goal with his heel against Ajax the week before. Gone was the ease, which he displayed in Saturday's 2-0 victory over Valencia. A one-touch pass on the counter-attack over 50 yards, a dangerous free kick headed for the back of the net, a well-timed pass, assisting Ronaldo's first goal.
All those who have followed Özil for years will not be surprised by his disappearance on the pitch against Barcelona. Indeed, before this summer's acquisition, many questioned whether Özil would be able to consistently perform at the highest level.
For much of last season, Özil performed poorly at his former club Werder Bremen. His brilliant play at the World Cup 2010 and in the Spanish League so far allow for one hypothesis: When coupled with world-class teammates against weaker opponents, Özil shines.
But when faced against teams that are not nominally inferior to Real, the German struggles.
Now, one must not forget that he is only 22 years old. There is no doubt regarding his talent, and he could become one of the world's best footballers over the next decade.
But in order to succeed on the world stage, he must also be a game-changing force against opponents like Barcelona, Chelsea and Arsenal.
With a domestic schedule including upcoming matches against Sevilla and Villareal and the Champions League entering its decisive phase, Özil has every opportunity to prove that he belongs to the best.
Only then will he be able to compete with still-injured Kaka for a position in the starting squad. And only then will Real truly have a new superstar.
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