Kroos can be Madrid midfield maestro
There are few players who could improve Real Madrid's Champions League-winning squad, but in Toni Kroos, Los Blancos are set to sign arguably the best midfielder in the world based on current form.
The Bayern Munich man is expected to be unveiled as Madrid's first summer signing this week as manager Carlo Ancelotti refuses to rest on his laurels following an impressive debut season at the helm that brought La Decima and the Copa del Rey to the Bernabeu.
Star trio Angel Di Maria, Luka Modric and Xabi Alonso bossed the Madrid midfield for most of their successful season, leaving little room for improvement. There is always that little bit of extra room, however, and in World Cup-winning Kroos, that room would be plugged. The 24-year-old is expected to put pen to paper on a big-money deal in the Spanish capital this week before jetting off on a well-deserved break.
The former Hansa Rostock man was a key cog in helping his nation to their fourth World Cup triumph. He didn't just start in all seven matches in South America, he finished all seven too, showcasing his energy, powerful engine, stamina and trust that his manager had in him to make his side flow. He was consistently good throughout but his performance in Germany's 7-1 thrashing of the hosts in the semifinal stands out, with two goals and two assists in one of the most famous victories in the history of international football.
Since being installed as Madrid manager last summer, Ancelotti has often preached about mixing a possession-based approach to Los Blancos' scintillating counter-attacking threat, and in Kroos he will bring in the perfect player to do just that. Germany completed the most passes of any team in Brazil with 4,157 and the 537 chalked up by Kroos was only surpassed by Philipp Lahm's 562.
Ancelotti preferred a 4-3-3 at the end of last season, and Kroos would be able to slot comfortably into any of the three midfield roles, with a preference for the left. With Bayern, he has enjoyed rotating roles with Bastian Schweinsteiger on occasion to mix things up in Munich's approach play and make life difficult for his opposite number. With Modric and Alonso likely to line up alongside him, that could be repeated.
Kroos could also operate just as well in a 4-2-3-1 setup, which Ancelotti went with at the start of last season. Karim Benzema would be the front man with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale on the flanks. Kroos would be the man to line up through the middle, with his through balls and pinpoint passing providing the aforementioned trio a host of opportunities to find the back of the net.
Although having a preference to start attacking moves rather than break them up, Kroos has improved defensively in recent seasons thanks to a useful loan spell with Bayer Leverkusen in the 2009-10 season and a desire from current Bayern boss Pep Guardiola to be more of an all-rounder in the middle. This was something Ancelotti asked of Isco last season to some success, but with Kroos that mindset will already have been instilled. The competition with Javi Martinez at Bayern helped that, too.
If Kroos lacks the pace and thrust of Modric, he more than makes up for it with quick-thinking movement and passing. Few are lucky to have the footballing brain Kroos possesses. That has only been empowered by Guardiola's tika-taka approach, leaving the midfield maestro with that touch of class that can win a game with a brilliant pass or sublime movement.
All of this comes at the age of just 24. Madrid will not be getting a player in the prime of his career, they will be signing a player whose best could yet be to come. Along with players such as Bale, Dani Carvajal, Isco, Raphael Varane and Asier Illarramendi, Madrid is building a squad of players who could flourish together for the foreseeable future. That talent may have been bought rather than nurtured, but it all bodes well for Los Merengues not having to wait as long for their next European Cup.
Playing at a club the size of Bayern should only help Kroos' introduction to life at the Bernabeu. Players such as Illarramendi, Modric and to a lesser extent Bale may have struggled initially with the demands of playing for arguably the biggest club in the world, but Bayern are one of those clubs that can match the allure of Los Blancos.
Kroos's arrival would, of course, be bad news for those vying for a starting role in Madrid's midfield next season. The German would likely replace Di Maria, who has felt undervalued at the Bernabeu for some time and who has been linked with moves to Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain this summer. The Argentine was arguably Madrid's best player last season, certainly in the second half of the campaign, but his days at the club look numbered.
Fellow World Cup-winner Sami Khedira is also expected to head for pastures new with Arsenal reported to be leading the chase for the midfielder's services. The former Stuttgart man also shone in Brazil and started in Los Blancos' historic Champions League final, but with just a year left on his contract and a desire for more regular first-team action, Khedira is not expected to remain next season.
Youngster Illarramendi is set to see his time on the pitch limited. Although appearing 20 times last season in all competitions, the former Real Sociedad midfielder's confidence took a hit when his manager opted for Khedira in place of the suspended Alonso in the Champions League final. Starting roles will now be even more difficult to come by for a player brought in to eventually succeed his fellow Basque midfielder Alonso.
Kroos may not quite reach the Galactico levels of Ronaldo, Kaka, Zinedine Zidane or David Beckham on his expected arrival in Madrid this week, nor the excitement of Luis Suarez's move to Barcelona, but the deal could prove to be the best bit of business this summer, especially if the figure is around the 25-million-euro mark that has been quoted.