Toni Kroos among the Galacticos

When the opportunity arises to sign a player of the calibre of Toni Kroos for around £20million, it’s not really a difficult decision to make. And when you’re the President of Real Madrid, you don’t really consider if you need an elite level player. If one becomes available, you sign him. It’s a policy that Florentino Perez adheres to. It’s not his problem how all of these star players integrate into the team. That’s a problem for the Coach to contend with.
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This problem has plagued successive coaches at Real Madrid as Perez has tended to make at least one marquee signing each summer during his tenure as President. Fortunately, in Carlo Ancelotti, Perez now has a Coach in charge of Real Madrid who has repeatedly proven his ability to squeeze a multitude of star names into a starting line up without compromising the team balance as a consequence. This most current group of players, however, could be Ancelotti’s most difficult assignment yet with the summer acquisition from Bayern Munich at the heart of it.
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The signing of Kroos has been overshadowed to an extent by Madrid’s pursuit and acquisition of James Rodriguez. And even though they’ll fulfill different functions on the pitch, the selection of either player could have repercussions for the other. To understand where Kroos will play in this Madrid team, you have to consider the formation that Ancelotti will select in an effort to shoehorn all of the individual talents into a structured framework.
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On the fairly sensible assumption that Bale, Ronaldo and Benzema will be the front three, it is reasonable to assume that James Rodriguez will sit behind and operate as a Number 10. However you want to label this setup, be it 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, it will result in two midfield players being chosen as the double pivot in front of the defence. And this is where it gets interesting.
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Madrid have a number of options for these two positions. Casemiro has gone out on loan to Porto but it still leaves Modric, Khedira, Illarramendi and Kroos all competing for two positions in Madrid’s strongest starting eleven.
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Madrid have proven time and time again that they are arguably the best counter attacking side in world football. Few, if any teams, can transition at the same speed as los blancos. There was a time, however, principally under Mourinho, when Madrid relied too heavily upon counter attacking and could even be considered something of a one trick pony, which led to one outcome for opponents: give the ball to Madrid; they don’t know what to do with it against a low block.
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And this is the central issue. Only against a few teams each season will Madrid meet an opponent will is prepared to play a more open style of play. All too frequently, Madrid will be faced with a low block. This situation is something that Ancelotti sought to address in his first season as Madrid, once again, began to construct play most notably through Luka Modric. The acquisition of Toni Kroos is designed to take this transition one step further. It enables Madrid to dominate possession and dictate proceedings against any opponent, but also to find a teammate in a pocket of space with a threaded pass.
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Ancelotti will shuffle his pack according to the opponent. When facing most La Liga opposition, the defensive work rate and positioning of Kroos will not be an issue as Madrid hold the vast share of possession.
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The UEFA Super Cup was an interesting case in point. With Alonso suspended, Ancelotti opted for a double pivot of Modric and Kroos. With 85 attempted passes, the German made more passes than anyone else on the pitch and completed 13 out of 14 long balls yet didn’t attempt one single through ball.
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Kroos Positions
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Kroos started on the left of a midfield pairing with Modric. The Croatian was usually the more advanced player, seeking to drive forward in possession with Kroos slightly deeper no doubt a consequence of Coentrao and Ronaldo attacking so much on the left. Whilst statistically Kroos performed ably, defensively his positioning still needs improvement particularly if he is to be the deepest midfielder.
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Could Kroos replace Alonso’s role in the Madrid side? (Editor: ironically enough, Alonso and Kroos have obviously switched clubs.) At 32 and with limited mobility, Alonso’s time on the main stage could be coming to a conclusion. Last season in La Liga, Alonso averaged 65 passes per game, the most of any Madrid player with Ramos on 61 and Modric on 58. When it comes to interceptions (1.5) and tackles (2.4), Alonso makes more per game of both than any other Madrid midfielder. Unsurprisingly, he also commits more fouls too. A product of his lack of mobility or due to him being swamped with too many team mates pushing on? His defensive contribution is key for Madrid. Alonso played 26 league games for Madrid last season with los blancos taking an average of 2.38 points per game. Without him they took 2.08 points per game.
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Can Kroos fulfill Alonso’s defensive role? Last season, Kroos made an average of 75 passes per game but on the defensive side only averaged 0.5 interceptions per game and 1.8 tackles per game. Does this matter? Given Bayern’s complete dominance of the ball, these statistics will be heavily skewed. Simply put, it’s hard to defend when you always have the ball. And it’s hard to analyse the defensive output for Kroos as a consequence.
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Would Ancelotti really go with a 4-2-3-1 against Barcelona or indeed any other elite level opponent with a Kroos – Modric partnership in central midfield? That’s highly unlikely and why there is still an important role for a more physically robust and combative player in midfield.

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This isn’t a criticism of Kroos. It’s an issue for the Real Madrid system as a whole to contend with and must be addressed if Ancelotti and his players really do have aspirations of claiming the five trophies available to them this season. If they are to succeed, Toni Kroos is going to have an increasingly important role to play. That role is likely to alternate as Ancelotti selects the side that provides the best opportunity for victory.

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No stereotypes. No clichés. No fuss. Just analysis with a Spanish flavour. You can follow chalkontheboots on Twitter: @chalkontheboots.

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