Player analysis on Toni Kroos and how he fits in at Real Madrid under Lopetegui
With a four-game goal drought and zero wins in the same amount of matches, there is no question that the Real Madrid and head coach Julen Lopetegui are experiencing an offensive crisis.
While it is easy to suggest that rejuvenating some of their attacking-line would break this dry spell, the team’s struggle also stems from the midfield where a 28-year-old Toni Kroos seems to be caught in the middle.
Statistically, Kroos has not been struggling individually on the pitch, but the 2018-19 season has certainly not mirrored the midfield strength of the past and if Real Madrid wants to get back to their winning ways, Lopetegui must find a way to harvest all of Kroos’ potential.
Lopetegui vs Zidane
After winning a third consecutive UEFA Champions League title, former head coach Zinedine Zidane announced that he would no longer be managing Real Madrid and Florentino Perez and team hired Lopetegui for the upcoming season.
With this change, the entire time had new coaching preferences to learn and the shift in playing style adds to the teams struggles simply because it is unfamiliar, especially in the midfield.
Kroos’ style of play is more fluid and creative than most and out of the 33 La Liga matches last year, the player participated in 23 and had a pass accuracy as 93%, with each pass having an average length of 18 metres.
With individual talent like this, Kroos is able to help players such as Marcelo and Dani Carvajal move the ball wide to then find someone in the middle and put the ball in the back of the net.
Now under the management of Lopetegui however, Kroos finds himself having to play more of a defensive role than he did under Zidane, who usually chose Casemiro to handle those duties.
The midfield stylings are polar opposites between these two players, much like the style of the affiliated coaches, and the statistics show how different Casemiro and Kroos play, with the latter having little defensive skills at all.
While Kroos continues to maintain his position in the starting XI under Julen Lopetegui, other players such as Isco Alarcon, Dani Ceballos, Casemiro and Luka Modric have been shifting in and out of positions.
Last season, Kroos dominated the midfield with Luka Modric and together the pair created one of the finest midfields in Europe’s top five leagues because they played very similarly and were effortlessly able to play off one another.
The Croatian international, however, has only played a full 90 minutes twice this season compared to the German’s ten after a long World Cup and some tension regarding a rumoured transfer to Inter Milan.
For both La Liga and the UEFA Champions League, Julen Lopetegui has preferred to use the other midfielders in his squad over Modric and the introduction of a new midfield system has yet to click for Real Madrid.
Kroos has played alongside Ceballos and Casemiro the most so far this season and they both have a different style than Modric who is more so his creative offset.
A young Ceballos is showing a lot of potential in the midfield, working on improving his possession percentage from the previous season but when he is playing, Kroos usually drops back into that unfamiliar defensive role.
Casemiro, who has far more experience playing alongside Kroos than Ceballos does, may be more comfortable with switching in and out of different midfield roles but having two defensive midfielders and usually, four defenders stops any fluidity for the teams attack.
With any change in management it is understandable that players will take time to adjust to their new surroundings but if Real Madrid wants to get back to their winning ways, this has to quickly settle in.
At the moment, Kroos is Lopetegui’s first-choice midfielder but he continues to be caught playing in unfamiliar positions with unfamiliar teammates. Playing with Isco and Modric or dropping Marco Asensio back could be options to handle these issues.
In order to start working towards fixing their recent form, the striker issue needs to be solved but Lopetegui must also find a way to harvest the midfield talents of Toni Kroos and utilize them to their full potential.