by Luke Regan
Last season, Real Madrid won the Champions League, defeating their city rivals Atletico Madrid 4-1 in the final, with the score after 90 minutes being just 1-1. However, perhaps the most eye catching performance came in the semi finals of the competition, in which, they defeated the then holders of the title, Bayern Munich, 5-0 on aggregate, with a ruthless counter attacking display.
Counterattacking football is often wrongly considered to be defensive football, with the distinction between direct, yet aimed passes often being confused with simply hoofing the ball up field aimlessly. Clearly, last season, in the big games in particular, Real Madrid were playing direct football, but in a measured and effective way, looking to expose opposition defences to the pace of the likes of Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria, the latter of which, has transferred to English outfit Manchester United
Whilst there is clearly nothing wrong with playing counterattacking football, and it is clearly effective, it does seem strange to see the Madrid giants opting to utilise such a style. Given the huge reputation and star quality that is associated with the club, you would, in theory expect domineering football, seeking to pin the opposition back into their own half at all times.
Perhaps then, the summer signings of James Rodriguez, and in particular Toni Kroos, indicates a yearning to control the possession of the ball more in the major European clashes. Kroos is widely thought to be not only one of the best midfielders in the world, but perhaps more specifically, one of the best at retaining possession in the world, boasting a pass completion rate last season, at his former club, Bayern Munich, of 91.6% – Xavi’esque.
In fact, comparing the 24 year old German with the great Spanish midfield Xavi seems perfectly reasonable, in that both started out away from the outright centre of midfield- Kroos started as a number ten, whilst Xavi started as a pivot in midfield, before moving into the centre of midfield, and regularly topping passing statistics in teams that hoard possession, indeed, Kroos is probably the closest player to Xavi in football.
Although most teams look to keep the ball for sustained spells, and it is believed to be beneficial to both performance and results, Real Madrid may well have one of the few major squads that are more suited to conceding possession. Among Madrid’s most effective players are Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, two players who on paper are wingers, but are in reality ruthless goal getters, who are particularly effective when counterattacking. Indeed, there are probably no other players in world football whom defenders would fear breaking into space at speed more than the two Madrid men alluded to.
Therefore, in theory, the signing of Kroos doesn’t really suit Madrid, in that he isn’t quite as direct or forward thinking as for example his new team mate Luka Modric is, who is a brilliant midfielder in a counterattacking system, given his ability to skip past a player and then release the ball quickly.
Despite the signing of Kroos, it seems unlikely that Carlo Ancelottli will be keen to adjust the system that worked so well for Madrid last season, and so, perhaps Kroos will be forced to vary his game personally, in order to truly thrive at his new club.