Real Madrid: Countering Diego Simeone’s plan to take out Toni Kroos

Real Madrid, Toni Kroos (Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Toni Kroos (Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid will face off on Sunday afternoon at the Wanda Metropolitano with a lot on the line. Los Rojiblancos are currently in first by five points with a game in hand over Los Blancos, who are in third place behind FC Barcelona on goal differential. Zinedine Zidane’s men have been hit hard with injuries and may even face Atleti without a first-team No. 9, but there will be no excuses if they suffer a defeat to their crosstown rivals.

The French manager must now worry about navigating the team’s situation at striker without Karim Benzema and Mariano Diaz, but he already had plenty on his managerial to-do list against a formidable coaching foe in Diego Simeone.

Over the past four matches, Zidane has gotten the better of Simeone, never surrendering a goal to Los Rojiblancos. And Real thoroughly outplayed Atleti earlier this season, winning 2-0 at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano.

The result will be more difficult at the Wanda, though. And according to MARCA’s Pablo Egea, the Atletico Madrid manager has a plan to take care of Real Madrid’s world-class midfield trio of Luka Modric, Casemiro, and Toni Kroos. Those three have been carrying Los Blancos, especially lately.

Marco Llorente could play a role in stifling Toni Kroos

Simeone’s plan to deal with Kroos is especially interesting. Egea writes that like last season in the Spanish Supercup Final when Alvaro Morata was tasked with preventing Kroos from receiving the first pass when Real played out of the back, Marco Llorente will do the same to Kroos on Sunday. Llorente is expected to play up top with Luis Suarez.

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Not only does Llorente have 15 goal contributions this season, but the midfielder’s energy and defensive work could make him more successful at this task than Morata.

But that’s not all. The report mentions that Simeone plans on having the world-class midfield duo of Saul and Koke preventing Kroos and Modric from getting the ball and getting into a rhythm on the ball.

That’s not a surprising strategy at all, considering Atleti have always deployed those two to make like difficult for the opposition’s best on-the-ball midfielders. And clearly, Simeone needs to make stopping Modric and Kroos a priority.

Not only have they excelled against all opponents this season as the best midfield duo in the world, but they were especially good against Atleti earlier this year. Kroos had no problem dictating play calmly and frustrating Atleti’s midfield, while Modric carved open the right-hand side with Dani Carvajal and Lucas Vazquez.

Simeone has gone back to the drawing board and is prepared to prevent Real from doing the one thing they do best, which is control the middle of the park. It appears like he knows Kroos is the key to their stability, especially when playing out of pressure. He is their metronome, as it is often said.

The focus on Kroos means that Zidane needs players like Raphael Varane, Nacho, and Casemiro to step up on the ball, and he must find ways to engage the width of the team in order to help Kroos find space. The left side of Real’s team, namely Ferland Mendy and either Vinicius Junior or Rodrygo Goes, must be there for Kroos and maybe take advantage of the extra attention on the German international.

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This Sunday’s Derbi will be a chess match between two fine managers, and Simeone is definitely taking the right approach, from Atleti’s perspective, to dealing with a player of Kroos’ caliber. The man’s passing and creation statistics are off the charts.