Real Madrid were facing questions from fans and the media after the club stumbled at the start of the 2014-15 La Liga season.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side had lost the Spanish Supercopa to city rivals, Atletico Madrid. Shortly thereafter the club dropped a league match to Real Sociedad, a contest which saw Real storm out of the starting gates to take a 2-0 lead, only to concede four goals in succession before falling, 4-2. Los Blancos would then lose again to their Madrid rivals, this time in their league fixture at the Santiago Bernabeu for the second time in two seasons.
Questions were being asked of Real Madrid president Florentino Perez’s decision to allow longtime servant Xabi Alonso to leave the Spanish giants for Bayern Munich. The former Spain international had been the key link between Madrid’s defence and attack since his arrival in 2009. The 32-year-old midfielder was one of the most respected members of Real’s squad and was looked to for his leadership both on and off the pitch.
Manager Carlo Ancelotti appears to have handed over the role Xabi Alonso vacated to midfielder Toni Kroos and the German international has increasingly settled into his position; and in recent days Real Madrid have started to flourish.
Since their 2-1 loss to their Madrid rivals, Real have run off three successive victories in domestic and European competition.
While the La Liga side are still conceding goals (four goals in three matches), they have poured in 18 goals over the course of two La Liga fixtures and a Champions League group stage match.
Of course it can be pointed out that Madrid have faced Basel, Deportivo and Elche in recent days; and perhaps the reigning European champions have benefitted from some ‘easy’ fixtures. But the club have really looked a different side since Kroos began to better understand his new teammates and settle into his role under Carlo Ancelotti.
Kroos had previously been used in many capacities by both Pep Guardiola and Jupp Heynckes during his stint with the Bundesliga giants.
Heynckes used the German international to man-mark Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo during the 2012-13 Champions League semi-finals. His efforts and acceptance of that role completely negated the Italians’ attack and Bayern went on to complete a 4-0 win on aggregate over the Serie A side.
Last season, Guardiola gave Kroos a more attacking role during the German’s Champions League Round of 16 tie against Arsenal and the midfielder put on a display that was lauded by the majority of football pundits. Kroos’ performance during the first leg of the encounter at the Emirates all but guaranteed the Germans progression to the quarter-finals of the European competition.
There was speculation of Kroos’ “unhappiness” at Bayern Munich last season. But the 24-year-old’s motives for leaving the Bundesliga club stemmed from his belief that he should have earned a salary similar to the club’s other star players: Ribery, Schweinsteiger and Lahm.
Unfortunately for Bayern supporters, the club refused to meet the player’s demands with officials continually stating that they would not break their wage structure for any player. Eventually, a deal took shape between the German club and Real Madrid which saw the 24-year-old move to the Bernabeu.
Since his return from an extended World Cup break, Kroos has steadily improved at the La Liga club to the point now where he appeared to be settling in perfectly to his new surroundings.
Recently, Ancelotti has used him in a deeper-lying role in front of the back four and Kroos has provided an organizing influence and stability within the Spanish side. His acceleration in Alonso’s old role has allowed Luka Modric to push forward more and create for Real’s numerous attacking options.
Kroos’ play has also permitted second-year midfielder Asier Illarramendi to ease into his role within Ancelotti’s side.
The 24-year-old product of Real Sociedad’s youth system was expected to be handed Alonso’s role when he was signed in July 2013. But his lack of experience and his play from earlier this summer have decreased Ancelotti’s trust in him.
At this time, the Italian boss feels that Kroos and Modric are Madrid’s best midfield options and Kroos is the most likely of the two to be trusted with Alonso’s responsibilities.
Madrid have been pouring in goals with the German deployed as protection for the back-four and orchestrating their attack from a deeper role. It will be pointed out that the club is still conceding needless or ‘soft’ goals. But closer inspection shows that the majority of the goals conceded have mostly come from crosses and set pieces.
The blame early on from the Spanish press was placed on the absence of Alonso. But the reasons behind the breakdowns in defence has been the poor performances of Madrid’s back-four. Their full-backs are allowing crosses to come too easily into the box and the centre-backs (Pepe, Ramos, and Varane) are just failing to track their opponents movements in dangerous areas.
Once the Madrid’s defender’s improve, or regain their past form, Carlo Ancelotti’s side will be the formidable threat to the domestic and European competitions that football experts thought they would be before the season kicked off.
Until then, Real Madrid will rely on the production of their attacking options and the development of Toni Kroos in his role as Xabi Alonso’s replacement.
With what the club have shown over the past several matches, that may just be all Madrid needs.
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