The Perfect Man in Bayern's Midfield | Toni Kroos, footballing perfection, and his importance to FCB

Martin Rose

Since returning from the injury that saw him miss out on Bayern's stretch run towards the club's first Triple, Toni Kroos has been Pep Guardiola's favorite pick in the midfield and displayed on Wednesday night just why he is one of the most important players the Bavarians can call upon.

Less than a minute since standing up again after a violent collision with Micah Richards of Manchester City, Toni Kroos was back at it, almost effortlessly dispossessing Yaya Touré to prolong a Bayern attack.

That's normal for Kroos, to bounce back from an amount of adversity as if it never happened.

It can be said that the midfielder earning a starting position at the beginning of this season, after the injury that ruled him out of the final three months of Bayern's historic campaign, is a perfect example of that as well. This also lends itself to the broader point of Pep Guardiola's faith in him. To many, the single most impressive characteristic of Pep Guardiola's first 100 days as manager of FC Bayern is that he has been correct every time he has put an emphasis on a certain player.

Be it Jerome Boateng, Philipp Lahm being played in the midfield (and for that matter, Rafinha at the back) and especially Toni Kroos pairing with Bastian Schweinsteiger in the forward-moving midfield, Pep has been right every time.

Of course, Catalonia's favorite son certainly has a sizable chunk of the best players in the world to pick from, true.  But not many managers would dare switch Philipp Lahm's position entirely. Even though he has played on both sides of the defense in recent seasons, Bayern's captain rarely entered the midfield as anything other than a superfluous attacking accessory; a player not needed in the attack but one who could join without compromising the defense.

On the surface, it may appear that Kroos has been the beneficiary of the injury wave that hit Bayern around the time of the UEFA Super Cup, which claimed midfielders Javi Martinez, Thiago Alcantara and Mario Götze to take Bayern from "FC Midfield" to being spread pretty thin everywhere but the wings. On the contrary, Kroos was the first choice from the very beginning, and with good reason.

As with all of Bayern's central midfielders, what is between the ears is the key to success and what's beneath is merely the vehicle with which the task is accomplished. With Kroos this is even more true, because he is usually one of the slowest players on the ball of anyone on the field. To make up for this particular deficiency, Kroos has developed a superb sense of spacial awareness (maybe he picked that up from Müller after all these years) to go along with his natural sense of anticipation.

This anticipation was on display against Manchester City just after the ten-minute mark of the match.

After Arjen Robben won a Bayern corner, Kroos set up in his usual containment position maybe ten yards back from the top of the box. Ribery's corner was towards Müller who had his back towards the goal, but the even lankiest player in the match couldn't control it well enough to make a quick turn and have a shot.

At this point, Müller makes a poor decision by sending a ball with no extra pace towards Kroos, but the pass never made it that far. Only down one, City were more than happy to see if they could break on the counter, and charged forward with no less than seven of their ten outfield players, led by Sergio Agüero.

Kroos, though, had other ideas. Rather than track back and defend with the bulk of the FCB defensive line, he attacked the ball and Agüero. With a sliding challenge, Kroos knocked the ball all the way back to the end line for a goal kick.

Lending to the unpredictability factor that Guardiola has held in high such regard, Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger never picked a side to work on for an extended period of time. The pair switched from the left to the right parts of the central midfield every ten minutes or so in order for Ribery and Robben on the wings to have fresh movement and different runs to back up their actions on the ball, in addition to not allowing Touré, Luiz Rosa, Kompany and Nastasic settle into the match.

The young German's superb vision was exhibited in the 32nd minute when he looped a pass right onto Franck Ribery's foot, which released David Alaba towards the end line. There, he sent in a cross that was deflected by Joe Hart back to the Austrian before he took a shot that was nearly the team's second goal, were if not for a bit of lucky positioning.

To cap off his stellar performance, Kroos met Luiz Rosa at the midway line an hour through the match and took the ball, feeding Arjen Robben what would be the match-sealing third goal of the night. It was nearly the same play as the one after ten minutes because the most crucial instinct Kroos possesses led to the interception and eventually the goal.

At times, Bayern's passing was dizzying to the eye, nearly hypnotic in its rhythm and precision. In the middle of it, always, was Toni Kroos. Of the staggering 76 passes Kroos attempted, 74 were on target. That's 97.36% if you are keeping track, which is as close to perfection as this sport often allows one to attain.

The Hansa Rostock youth product even has an adjective for the way he plays on nights like this: Kroosartig.

It's a play on the word "großartig" which translates to 'awesome' and is actually the second German word to be devised around this team after the verb "Müllert" as in, 'he Müllers the ball into the net.' That is a good way of describing his goal in the 56th minute and came to be after many noticed his distinct way of flailing about the penalty area in the most controlled (and yet seemingly uncontrolled) manner possible before scoring and celebrating like a fish out of water.

Kroos' personal match statistics, as did the entire team's, were remarkably similar to the one other match that stands out so far this campaign as being an utter domination of a supposedly worthy opposition. At the expense of Schalke, Kroos completed 87 passes for a rate of 91.6% while his team made nearly three-times the amount of passes than the hosts from Gelsenkirchen.

Back to Manchester and the second half, the German-speaking support even humored us with a string of "Ole's" after it seemed like Bayern had made 50 passes without a man in light blue touching the ball.

Besides the final ten minutes, where FCB became complacent and nearly allowed their 3-0 lead to be cut very, very close, they put the match to bed with the fabled pass-and-move. Though their idea of the term is almost exclusively horizontal before vertical, until a planed run from a forward is met with a long ball. Dante and Thomas Müller displayed this to perfection twice, one resulting in a goal.

Kroos fits into this mold perfectly, because it doesn't rely on speed from his position, rather distribution and stability. His new role (or even old roll if you go back to parts of 2011-2012) will become very interesting when a player who does much of the same, Javi Martinez, returns. This mainly because with current form being taken into consideration, it doesn't look like anyone is ready to move Herr Kapitän back to defense.

The positional competition between Kroos and Martinez has in part forced Toni to step up the defensive side of his game to be able to compete with Martinez, who is as good stopping an attack as he is starting one going the other way.

Mutually beneficial competition between two world-class distributors on the same team? Europe and Germany better hope the two don't find their way onto the pitch at the same time.

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