Toni Kroos and Luka Modric

Real Madrid’s famous habit of producing the goods in the big games was the bedrock of their four UEFA Champions League trophies in five years till 2018.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema provided the firepower, Sergio Ramos kept things tight at the back, while the midfield provided a base to churn out masterful performances. 

They have been tested time and again on the biggest stages of world football, and mastered the art of winning. Despite their advancing years under Zinedine Zidane.

That indomitable triumvirate of Toni Kroos(31 years old), Casemiro(29) and Luka Modrić(35), just when it looks like it’s finally run its course, proceeds to dominate a Champions League quarter-final game from start to finish.

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At Estadio Alfredo Di Stéfano in the first leg of their titanic tie with Liverpool, Zinedine Zidane’s midfield asserted their supremacy in a glorious first half. It was all to do with Toni Kroos’ masterful performance. 

The German feasted on the lack of pressing he was afforded by Liverpool’s midfield trio as he sprayed pass after pass over the defence to expose the Reds’ high defensive line. In the first half alone, Kroos completed five diagonal long passes and three crosses. 

He was Madrid’s most accurate passer and completed all his long passes, no one in white attempted more passes. 

Vini comes of age

In the  27th minute, Kroos sprayed an outstanding long pass for Vinícius Júnior, the sort of 50-yard pass we all dreamed of as kids on the playground. 

Vinícius still had much to do.

As if inspired by the sublime pass, the Brazilian would produce an equally exquisite chest control and finish.

The previously skittish 20-year-old was playing outside his skin as he produced a clinical finish from a Modrić pass to kill Liverpool’s fightback in the second half. This 3-1 victory provides a turning point for Vinícius’ Madrid career.

Indeed, he was quick to pinpoint his team mate’s quality on a special night.

“Toni Kroos is incredible, he is a legend,” Vinicius told RMC Sport. “Nobody can play like him. He has a lot of class.

“People from outside speak. I always keep working. I had never scored a double with this shirt, I think it’s my best moment. I pointed to the crest because I work too much. I always dreamed of playing at Real Madrid.

“I always keep working. My team-mates encourage me to do so. They give me confidence.”

The youngster scored his first brace for Los Blancos as his pace and trickery rattled Trent Alexander-Arnold, one of the finest fullbacks in Europe who has otherwise struggled this season. It was evident Zidane’s side targeted his defensive positioning as they consistently lofted passes to Vinícius and Ferland Mendy on the left. 

Toni Kroos and Vinicius Junior
Kroos and Vinicius linked up delightfully.

Midfield Masters

It was another lobbed Kroos pass, perhaps his first incomplete pass of the first half, which caused panic for Alexander-Arnold to head straight to Marco Asensio for the second goal. 

Stand-in right-back Lucas Vázquez highlighted the influence of their midfielders as they exploited spaces in behind Liverpool’s full-backs.

“We take what the coach says as gospel and try to perform based on what he tells us. Things worked out well for us tonight and we have to be happy. Our strength was that we combined long spells of possession with balls over the top, as we looked to get in behind their centre-backs and find Vini and Marco, who are very quick”.

“We opened up space by moving the ball from side to side with our possession, that’s where Toni and Luka really help us out and make the team play”.

Real Madrid had their superior midfield trio to thank for the result as they controlled proceedings and denied the Merseysiders space to operate, instead picking them off on the counter. 

Much of Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool success has hinged on an industrious midfield trio. But at the Di Stéfano, they met a superior, more experienced unit.

Liverpool came with Alisson, Fabinho and Thiago, some of the best in the world in their positions; but Kroos and Modrić reminded everyone of the simple rule – never allow your man space and time to pick a pass in midfield. 


Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin

Chief Editor of the Football Castle, Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin is a football junkie and writer of the beautiful game.

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