Toni Kroos, one-third of Real Madrid's famous KCM midfield - who has conquered everything there is to conquer in football (except the Copa del Rey), built a dynasty that belongs at the table of all-time greats. But every fairytale comes to an end. KCM is also nearing its finishing line. Luka Modric is performing insanely well at the age of 37, defying logic and perhaps even biology. But Casemiro’s usability against high-pressing opponents has been a talking point for a few seasons now. Amidst all of his, Toni Kroos had consistently been one of the best midfielders of the world if not the absolute best, pretty much every season. However, Kroos’ energy, pace, and creative ability have been questioned since the calendar turned to 2022.
Real Madrid, under Carlo Ancelotti, thrives under freedom of creative expression from his players once they hit the pitch. This is not a team drilled in pressing sequences nor is it a team with a spectacular rest-defense structure. They generally like to hold onto the ball and play in the opponent's half but periodically like to sit back and thrive in transition as well. Even if Real Madrid does not come out with extremely well-elaborated ideas, with all-time greats of the game like Luka Modric, Karim Benzema, and Toni Kroos on the pitch, they sometimes improvise patterns of attack on the go. Once these patterns are identified, the team tries to infiltrate the opponents' backline with repetition. This much trust in the players to carry the job has its pros and cons but that is a discussion for another day. Today, we decipher Kroos’ significance.
With either a possession-heavy or a transition-heavy system, Madrid has relied on overloading one flank and opening up the other. Due to the severe deterioration of offensive qualities of their fullbacks recently, the turnover of success has not been the same as before, but the idea remained the same. In this particular idea, you need at least one player who can switch the ball with extraterrestrial efficiency. Toni Kroos has the most switches among all midfielders of Europe’s top five leagues and the most switches among all players in the Champions League this season.
Kroos is the midfielder with the most passes into the final third among all midfielders of Europe’s top 5 leagues and the Champions League this season. He is also among the top 10 players with the most progressive passes among Europe’s top 5 leagues. Although he has to operate from a deeper position, his presence in Madrid’s final third is extremely important. Kroos is the adhesive presence that binds Madrid’s left flank together but provides the other flanks with ample service too.
His top 3 passing clusters suggest that Toni resides on the left. But the end locations of plenty of his passes are on the right, even the ones that end inside the penalty area. Kroos is the Real Madrid midfielder with the most progressive passes, passes into the penalty area, and passes into the final third. He is number four for xA within the team this season, behind Benzema, Vini Jr, and Modric.
While Kroos brings verticality with his ball progression, his horizontal on-ball work has also generated shots and goals. A cluster of shots through the central channels have been generated from passes provided by Kroos. He is the leader among Real Madrid’s midfielders for Shot-creating actions this season.
Only five outfield players (and one midfielder) in the team have played more minutes than Kroos this season. There was a stretch of almost 30 games where he had to lace up the boots on every occasion. The recovery time of injuries has been very short as well. An overworked Toni Kroos is of course not supposed to operate at the extreme level he has established for himself. Eduardo Camavinga brings the dynamism and life into the midfield when Kroos is fatigued and when the German cannot dictate tempo at times to the specific game’s demand. But that’s okay, that’s why we have substitutions. There are still a lot of things (as demonstrated above) that Camavinga cannot do or should not be expected to do week in and week out like Kroos has done for almost a decade, just yet.
The transition from Kroos and Modric to the generation of Camavinga and Fede Valverde is inevitable but there is no real rush either if the manager can distribute workload accordingly without over or underworking either set of players. The transition needs to be gradual and smooth. Meanwhile, Kroos still has a lot to give to this team.