Carlo Ancelotti has hailed Toni Kroos after the German international scored his first goal for Real Madrid in Saturday’s comprehensive victory over Rayo Vallecano.
Kroos struck his team’s third goal early in the second half to settle his team’s nerves after the visitors threatened to mount a stirring comeback, sending the league leaders on the way to a 5-1 victory.
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And Ancelotti felt Kroos’ goal was the icing on the cake of another influential performance, claiming: “Kroos was the man of the match, he is playing to a very high level.”
The 24-year-old was signed for just 25 million pounds (Dh114.5m) from Bayern Munich and already his contribution is making his signing look like a bargain purchase, something big-spending Madrid are not usually associated with.
Kroos’ smooth introduction and the equally impressive form of Luka Modric has provided a springboard for Madrid’s success.
Although both Kroos and his Croatian partner have previously operated as playmakers for club and country, Ancelotti has managed to blend them into deep-lying midfielders, with one covering for the other if he decides to move forward.
No mean feat when you consider the attacking wealth Madrid possess and the area they have to cover in order to maintain balance in the middle of the park.
It has also helped ease the unexpected departure of Xabi Alonso to Bayern.
Alonso was seen as the glue that held Madrid’s aggressive, attacking ethos together and made them more of a unit but Ancelotti, at least so far, has been able to compensate for the exit of the veteran Spanish midfielder.
“They are a very good pairing,” the Italian said.
“Kroos has the freedom to go forward from time to time and, when he does, Modric covers his position.”
Madrid’s opening goal was scored by Gareth Bale after he returned to the starting line-up following a month out with a hip and buttock injury, and the Welshman has spoken of his admiration for Cristiano Ronaldo, whose late fifth goal means he has now scored in every home league game for a year.
Bale is delighted to have been named on the shortlist for the FIFA Ballon d’Or award, saying: “If you don’t want to be the world’s best you probably shouldn’t be playing football.”
But he also acknowledged that Ronaldo is the undisputed master of the Bernabeu, as he added: “At the moment, Ronaldo is on another level to everyone else.”
The Portuguese has already registered 18 league goals so far – eight more than La Liga’s second-highest scorer, Neymar – and Bale admitted the opportunity to play alongside the winger is a major motivating factor.
“It’s another reason why I came to Madrid – to learn from the best players,” added Bale.
“Seeing him in training every day, how concentrated he is on every aspect of his game and on the pitch, it gives me that kind of platform to aim for and keep improving. Hopefully one day I can get there.”
Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola has backed his former Barcelona colleague Luis Enrique to be successful in Catalonia – but warned it will not happen immediately.
The pair were team-mates for five years, winning the La Liga title in 1998 and 1999, and Guardiola subsequently handed Enrique his first managerial role by appointing him B team manager when he took over at the Nou Camp in 2008.
Guardiola knows exactly what it takes to succeed with Barca, having led the team to no less than 14 trophies during an unprecedented period of success between 2008 and 2012, but he cautioned critics of Enrique that trophies do not come easily.
“He’s going to be a success, but like all things in life, it’ll take time,” said Guardiola.
“Football is a process. You can’t just turn up and then expect to win everything by November.”
And although Enrique has received plenty of criticism following recent displays, Guardiola has urged the club’s fans to retain faith.
He added: “You have to give it time and work hard.
"Sometimes things are plain sailing, sometimes they are a bit tougher.”
Enrique, meanwhile, could only find solace in the old maxim that champions are capable of picking up points even when they are below their best following Barca’s unconvincing 2-1 victory over Almeria.
“To be successful you need to win playing badly,” he said.
“But that doesn’t cover up the fact we played badly.”
The game was another blank for Lionel Messi, who hit the woodwork in both halves but has now failed to score in three consecutive league outings after climbing to 250 career goals, one short of levelling Telmo Zarra’s all-time record.
But Enrique was reluctant to assess the performance of his star man, insisting: “I’d rather analyse the team.
"The individual players were below par and we suffered from a lack of precision. We need to improve to get our style of football back and to keep winning games and picking up points.”
David Moyes is set to be confirmed as the new manager of Real Sociedad today, with the Basque club’s president Jokin Aperribay admitting a decision over the identity of his team’s new coach is close.
Sociedad sacked previous boss Jagoba Arrasate following last weekend’s home defeat against Malaga, and Moyes was immediately installed as front-runner as he seeks to make a fresh start following his disappointing spell at Manchester United.
On Wednesday, Aperribay admitted he has been in contact with Moyes along with former Real Betis and West Brom boss Pepe Mel, but added that other candidates were also being considered.
Amid widespread reports in Spain yesterday that Moyes had been selected, Aperribay gave further clues when he spoke to Spanish television network Canal Plus before last night’s game against Atletico Madrid.
“A decision could come tomorrow,” he said. “We have thought everything through, but have not yet made our final decision.”
Moyes has previously admitted his desire to work abroad and would relish the chance of taking over a team which competed in the Champions League as recently as last season and whose potential far outstrips their recent performances.
Prior to yesterday’s meeting with Atletico, the San Sebastian-based team had won just one of their 10 La Liga fixtures this season – thrashing Real Madrid 4-2 at the Anoeta in August – and also suffered a humiliating Europa League qualifying round exit against Krasnodar.
Finances were the chief sticking point in negotiations, with Sociedad unable to come anywhere near to matching the £4m (Dh23.4m) salary Moyes earned at Manchester United.
Arrasate was one of the lowest-paid managers in La Liga with an annual salary of just 300,000 pounds (Dh1.3m), meaning Moyes earned more in a month than his predecessor did in a year.
Sociedad, though, are prepared to stretch their budget to make Moyes the best-paid manager in the club’s history and the opportunity to rebuild his career by working with a talented squad in a relatively rel-axed environment appears to have swayed the decision, with the Scot expected in San Sebastian today.