Real Madrid produced their most complete performance of the 2021-2022 season on Tuesday night in Kyiv against Shakhtar Donetsk, whom Los Blancos lost two twice in 2020-2021 amidst an array of defensive breakdowns.
Los Merengues rarely showed cracks in this Champions League encounter with the underrated Ukrainian side, and Toni Kroos’ return to full strength had a lot to do with the composed nature of Real’s overall performance.
Prior to Real Madrid’s outstanding night in the Champions League, Squawka chief writer Muhammad Butt tweeted that Toni Kroos was “not as key” to Real’s unprecedented feat of winning three straight Champions Leagues. Butt was roundly criticized by fans, specifically Madridistas, on social media for this opinion.
There’s no doubt that Real had – and currently have – many important players without whom the club would not be able to function as optimally. But in recent weeks, it has become clear that not only is it incorrect to assert that Kroos is not as important as his colleagues in midfield, it may actually be conversely correct to state that he is THE key to this team.
Now, this is nothing new to many Madridistas, but it is almost poetic that this has become crystal clear that the exact time someone with a large platform echoed the very opposite sentiment on Twitter.
Kroos was marvelous against Shakhtar. With one game of fitness under his belt against Espanyol and the full international break to rest, Kroos was finally at 100 percent after dealing with pubalgia, and the German international delivered a masterclass in controlling the pitch.
With Kroos at 100 percent, everything else fell into place. Luka Modric was significantly better than in previous matches, bringing back the magic in his boots, most notably with his perfectly-timed, defense-spittling pass for Vinicius Junior’s first goal.
Casemiro’s improvement was even more dramatic. Rest absolutely played a role in the Br azilian breaking free from his worst start to a season, but the defensive midfielder was able to focus more on his strengths and was even sharp on the ball with a passing accuracy of roughly 94. That goes back to Kroos, who provided the stability in midfield both offensively and defensively to allow the other players to get to their best.
For his part, Kroos won three tackles, had two key passes, and completed 96.3 percent of his 82 pass attempts in 78 minutes played. Those are outstanding numbers. A basic observer of box scores would spout nonsense about Kroos assisting none of the five goals, but anyone who watched the game with any semblance of football knowledge saw that Kroos was vital to Real’s ability to score those five goals…and also hold Shakhtar to none after being undone by them defensively in two previous fixtures.
While Kroos is not known for his individual defensive prowess, he’s so smart tactically that he does significantly help the team defensively. He allows other players to cover and makes passes so that when Real have the ball, they do not lose their shape and do not lose the ball easily on either his pass attempt or on the control or second pass attempt from a teammate.
Kroos is a chess grandmaster. He executes his plan to perfection and like the conductor of an elite orchestra, he keeps all the moving parts harmonizing along seamlessly. If one note is out of place or one man is a little slower to catch-up, Kroos knows how to accommodate that without a hiccup. And as you can see by how everyone played this week, he is the key to making Los Blancos tick.