Imagining a Manchester United Team with Bayern Munich's Toni Kroos in Midfield

Paul Ansorge@@utdrantcastFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2014

Bayern's Toni Kroos waits for a penalty during the German first division Bundesliga soccer match between FC Bayern Munich and Eintracht Braunschweig, in Munich, southern Germany, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

The rumours that Toni Kroos is a target for Manchester United will not go away.

Partly fuelled by the player's own proclamations, per The Telegraph's Henry Winter, that "the Premier League is a possibility," stories linking him with United will not stop until he arrives, signs a new contract with Bayern Munich or picks an alternative destination. 

Whilst many United fans, burned by the summer's wild Cesc Fabregas chase, may feel it is a very big if, what will the Red Devils look like if Toni Kroos does choose Old Trafford?

Comparisons to Paul Scholes

United's midfield woes have been well covered. Following the purchase of Juan Mata, even David Moyes said, per Winter, "If you asked me what I needed most, I would have said a central midfielder." 

MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 29:  Paul Scholes of Manchester United celebrates scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final, second leg match between Manchester United and Barcelona at Old Trafford on April 29, 2008 in Manche
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

For many years, United fans have bemoaned the failure to adequately replace Roy Keane. Now, almost a decade on from that, it is Keane's finest midfield partner who needs replacing.

One of the reasons it is so easy to imagine Toni Kroos at United is because he looks like the closest thing that exists to Paul Scholes in his prime.

The data backs up the comparison. Scholes' pass accuracy in his last season at United, according to Squawka, was 92 percent. Kroos' current season at Munich is identical.

They share similar average pass lengths, duels won and average defensive actions per game. They differ on chances created, but Scholes' data for last season in that regard is not reflective of the contributions he made earlier in his career. Scholes' shooting accuracy is much higher, but it is a much smaller sample size than Kroos'.

Much more visceral than their statistical similarities, though, is the feeling of deja vu brought on by watching Kroos in action.

In this 10-minute highlight reel there are flicks, long passes, chips, through balls and blistering long shots, all of which bring to mind Scholes in his prime.

Kroos adds a physical presence when on the ball, because of his size, but there is something in his speed of thought and decision-making that is incredibly reminiscent of the "Ginger Prince." 

Given United have had a very similar player in the recent past, it would not be difficult for Kroos to incorporate himself into United's line-up.

With David Moyes as Manager

When imaging United's future, there are two distinct options to consider. The first is that, in spite of a truly dismal first season, David Moyes will be given a second season to prove himself. The other is, of course, that he will not.

If Moyes is in charge, then how will he use Kroos?

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19:  Arjen Robben of Bayern Muenchen congratulates Toni Kroos of Bayern Muenchen on scoring their first goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Arsenal and FC Bayern Muenchen at Emirates Stadium
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

So far this season, Moyes has very rarely strayed from his preference for a two-man midfield. With Kroos as part of a midfield two, he would be carrying a burden he does not at Munich, whose system is considerably more fluid.

It is rare for a Bayern midfielder not to have a good option open to him when deciding what to do with the ball. Not so at United under Moyes.

Given Moyes' preference for stretching play and asking his players to cover space, Kroos may find himself less naturally comfortable.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 16:  Marouane Fellaini of Manchester United tangles with Raheem Sterling of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford on March 16, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

There are no direct comparisons for Kroos amongst United's current crop of midfielders, in terms of talents and skill set, but the closest comparison in terms of role and function when in the side would probably be Marouane Fellaini.

Fellaini is quick to get ahead of the ball when his colleagues are in possession. Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick are both "recyclers", rarely staying in possession long, and either, on form, would make a fine midfield partner for Kroos when United have the ball.

However, a midfield two of Kroos and Carrick, or Cleverley, would perhaps not be at its best when the opposition was in possession. Whilst Kroos offers more physical presence than either of the two, he is certainly not Roy Keane.

He alone would not be a panacea for United's ills under Moyes.

In order to get the very best out of Kroos, he needs freedom to break from midfield and operate in the “hole.”

Given Robin van Persie's complaints to Dutch television channel NOS (h/t The Guardian) about other players being in the "zones" in which he wishes to operate, having yet another player most comfortable when breaking forward and working behind the strikers may cause some issues in a rigid system.

With Another Manager in Charge

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Robin Van Persie, Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney of Manchester United stand over a free kick during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Manchester United at Selhurst Park on February 22, 2014 in London,
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Assuming David Moyes is not given a second season, United fans will be hoping Kroos is managed by someone more suited to get the best out of the German, and the other attacking talent at United's disposal. (Of course, the scenario that seems most likely to me is that he will be managed by a much better manager—that being Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich, but this is no time for such realism!)

If a manager with a more nuanced approach were to take over from Moyes, a United featuring Kroos might look very different. A 4-3-2-1 with very attacking full-backs, and Kroos alongside Carrick and Fellaini with two from Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata, Shinji Kagawa and Adnan Januzaj behind Robin van Persie would be an option.

Kroos could break forward from that midfield three to make a 4-2-3-1 when United are in possession. He could also play in a two-man midfield against sides less likely to make it difficult for United, either in a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1.

The idea of Kroos offering options to, and providing support for, United's array of attacking talent is an appealing one indeed and, at a time when real-life Manchester United are so unspeakably terrible, dreaming about a fictional future United is an enjoyable pastime.

What Would Be Needed to Complement Kroos?

In order to get the best out of Kroos there would need to be other changes in the squad. The current conundrum of accommodating Rooney, Mata, van Persie, Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia, Nani, Javier Hernandez, Danny Welbeck, Januzaj and Kagawa does not get easier with Kroos' inclusion.

The chances of all of them being at United, and being happy, for the entirety of next season seem limited at best.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: Toni Kroos of Muenchen is challenged by Samir Nasri of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Manchester City and FC Bayern Muenchen at Etihad Stadium on October 2, 2013 in Manchester, Engl
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Given how much of an attacking contribution Kroos makes, he could be the key to unlocking the right combination of the players above, but it self-evidently cannot be all of them.

Kroos alone may not even be enough to deal with the problems of United's midfield. A truly defensive-minded midfielder would be the perfect accompaniment to his talents.

Whilst Marouane Fellaini is the closest thing in the current squad to such a player, he has looked at his best with United in possession rather than when breaking up play. His most telling defensive contributions have been when the ball is in the air, rather than on the ground.

So, current Manchester United plus Toni Kroos probably does not equal guaranteed success. However current Manchester United plus Toni Kroos, a new left-back, a new defensive midfielder and minus a couple of the players listed above could be a mouthwatering prospect.

Particularly with a new manager at the helm.


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