What: Toni Kroos and James Rodríguez’s debut
When: August 12th 2014
Who: Against Sevilla
Where: Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff
Score: Real Madrid 2-0 Sevilla
Goals: 1-0 (Cristiano Ronaldo, min 30), 2-0 (Cristiano Ronaldo, min 49)
Real Madrid line-up: Iker Casillas; Dani Carvajal, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Fábio Coentrão (Marcelo, min 84); Luka Modrić (Asier Illarramendi, min 86), Toni Kroos; James Rodríguez (Isco, min 72); Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo
Coach: Carlo Ancelotti
Two of the best players of the 2014 World Cup arrived at Real Madrid after the tournament in Brazil. James Rodríguez and Toni Kroos were both on the 10-man shortlist for the best player of the tournament, while the Colombian finished as the tournament’s top scorer and the German, of course, left Rio de Janeiro as a world champion.
The two World Cup stars made their debuts on the same night, in Wales at the Cardiff City Stadium. It was for the UEFA Super Cup against Europa League champions Sevilla and it was a chance to start off life at Los Blancos with a trophy. Thanks to two goals from Cristiano Ronaldo, it finished in a 2-0 victory and the new arrivals duly left Wales with their first title at Real Madrid.
This was Carlo Ancelotti’s second year as coach and he set his side up in a 4-2-1-3, with James playing in the hole, in the role that Isco had occupied on several occasions the season before. Kroos, meanwhile, formed a double pivot with Luka Modrić. In the first half, Kroos and Modrić were very deep. Too deep, perhaps. With James and the BBC up top and with both full-backs – Dani Carvajal and Fábio Coentrão – getting really far forward and doing well in attack – yes, even Coentrão – it meant that Kroos and Modrić had to sit back. They had to help hold down the fort and focus more so on defence than on attack. At least for the first half.
The first goal arrived on the half hour mark and it was a goal with the BBC trademark stamped all over it. Gareth Bale – who was excellent in this match in his home country – struck the Brazuca ball absolutely perfectly from the left flank to find Ronaldo at the far post, who was in enough space thanks to Karim Benzema occupying the Sevilla defence. Of course, Ronaldo didn’t miss.
With the second goal, scored just four minutes into the second half, Ronaldo received the ball from Benzema and had a fierce crossgoal shot that Beto probably should have saved, but that went through Ronaldo’s international teammate to nestle in the back of the net.
While it would be revisionism in the extreme to suggest James and Kroos were the creative forces behind either of these goals, it is true that the Colombian played the past to Bale ahead of his assist and that the German did likewise to get the ball to Benzema for his assist. This was a match won by the BBC, not by JK. But the two debutants did get involved when they could, especially as the match went on.
In the second half, with Real Madrid in the driving seat and feeling comfortable, Real Madrid’s double pivot of Kroos and Modrić were able to take 10 to 15 steps forward and connect with the front three a lot more. No longer were long passes needed to advance the ball. Now, the pass masters that are Kroos, Modrić and James could play triangles around the Sevilla defence, offering a glimpse of what was to come over the first half of that 2014/15 season.
Compared to some of the other first appearances covered in this ‘Remembering their debuts’ series, the double debut of Kroos and James wasn’t quite as dramatic. They didn’t score. They didn’t assist. They were maybe only the fifth or sixth best players in the team that night. But it was certainly a positive start. They both showed that they still had magic in their boots, even after a tiring World Cup, and they showed that they belonged in the Real Madrid midfield.
Sure enough, these two players went on to have good debut seasons for the club. While most Madridistas try to forget the events of 2014/15, Kroos did well and played more matches than any other member of the squad and James had his most effective season in white by scoring 17 and assisting 18. And it all started in Cardiff, as Real Madrid won the UEFA Super Cup.