Real Madrid's Toni Kroos sat down with LaLiga ahead of ElClásico this Saturday. His side trails Barcelona by nine points on the table and must win here to have any realistic chance of winning the title.
LaLiga: How would you define El Clásico?
Kroos: Of course, it's special. Every game of this is special. I'm here now for four and a half years, I played a lot of ElClásicos already but the atmosphere is always special. Also, the days before you feel the preparation of the team, the fans get excited. It's special.
LaLiga: And what about every time you put on the Real Madrid shirt in ElClásico, what is it that makes it so unique, so different, to be on that side of the pitch, obviously compared to FC Barcelona?
A: I think it's special because it's our biggest rival and also one of the best teams in the world. That makes this game special because, in my opinion, these are the two best teams in the world, the play against each other and they are also our biggest rival. You feel it in the locker room that for other players it's a special game because of the history, we have a lot of crazy games between these two teams. The emotion is a little bit more intense than other games.
LaLiga: How would you describe the atmosphere that you experience on the pitch with eighty thousand people supporting you?
Kroos: It's special. Sometimes is difficult to explain because every game for Madrid, every game in the stadium is special, but these games against Barcelona even more because it's so important for the club, for the fans to win this game, because is our biggest rival and that makes these games special and even a lot of times in the schedule it's close between these two teams and what makes even more important.
LaLiga: How do you feel about this particular Clásico at home?
Kroos: Important game for us, not because it's Barcelona, it's because they are 3 important points to especially at home. We will get our chances to win this game and we have to use them to get a little bit closer to Barcelona in the schedule, what is difficult enough this year because we lost a lot of points this year in LaLiga. So, this is a chance to get a little bit closer.
LaLiga: How much important is the midfield in this match?
Kroos: Doesn't matter against which opponent... you can win these games at midfield if you get the control of the midfield offensively and defensively, but of course there are other positions on the pitch that can decide the game with individual quality, but in my opinion, of course, the midfield is an important point to control a little bit and at the end to win the game.
LaLiga: How would you define this relationship so complementary between Luka Modric and you?
A: I would not only say of course I enjoy playing on the side of Luka. We play very well together, we showed this a couple of years. But also, for example, Casemiro is very important for us. I think the mix of us three is good. And what's most important is good for the team. We had the luck to have a lot of success in the last years. And I think it's one point that we work well together in the middle.
LaLiga: Do you see yourself as a role model or a leader or somebody that young players can look to for guidance?
Kroos: I hope to be one. But the most important is to show a good performance to be a leader. The young players can look up to you to do good things on and off the pitch is great. This is important to show them how it works to be here for a long time, to be a starter here for a long time. I hope with this I can help young players also.
LaLiga: And specifically, in the midfield... Dani Ceballos, Fede Valverde... do you have any special connection with him different to the other young players in the squad?
Kroos: We have a lot of great talents, not only in the middle. They get more minutes this season, also because of the coach that trusts in these players and give them minutes. It's a good decision, it's the only way they can improve. They do well. It's normal that they have bad games also, every player has these. It's part of the evolution of each player. You can only improve when you play and I think this season everybody got his minutes and we have great talents here like Fede Valverde or Reguilón. We'll be excited to see which way they go.
LaLiga: What is the thing about Madrid or about the club that helps young talents coming and adapt so well?
Kroos: I think for me that the most important thing is that there was a coach like Carlo Ancelotti that wanted me 100% and trust in me 100% from the first minute. That makes you comfortable as a player and also I had the feeling with the team that they walk with me and they were happy that I'm here and if you get this feeling it makes it much easier and also the same feeling was with my family because it was a big step, of course, to leave your home country with 24 years to the biggest club in the world and everything went well from the first day, all the club help me a lot, they trust in me, not only the players, also the guys around the team and that help me. Of course, it helps me that I already come from a big club in Germany, so I already knew how it works in a big club.
LaLiga: Talk me about Santiago Solari... about the importance that he gives to the midfield.
Kroos: He was a midfield also and the good thing is the coach knows these things that happen on the pitch on this level. He knows how you feel on the pitch and he can help you a little bit more if he had the same situation in his career. It always helps and it's always good to have conversations with these former players.
LaLiga: How have things changed tactically over the last few months?
Kroos: I think step by step we improved, we had a tough start into this season, what was quite normal sometimes after this success we had in the past years. Everybody knows a lot of players played the World Cup, some came very late. And that was a little bit unlucky for Lopetegui also, because in my opinion he did a great work but he didn't have the luck. The players had no form at that time so he had no results and that's not good in a club like this. Everything at least improved a little bit during the last months and now we are here and we have the chance to fight for other trophies and that's always a good sign.
LaLiga: Is there anything different in terms of preparation for this game (ElClásico) in order to get ready against FC Barcelona?
Kroos: Not really because it's an opponent we know very well. It doesn't mean that is difficult to defend. They have high quality in each position. But of course, we prepare the games but not much different than the other games. Because like I said before it's also 3 points, three very important points. For example, the three points we lost against Girona count the same.
LaLiga: Talking about these three points... is there anything else that you feel that you need to do in order to win a title or a trophy by the end of the season, anything different that needs to change?
Kroos: I think we've been on a good way the last weeks. Of course, we were disappointed not to win at home against Girona because we would have needed this if you see the schedule. But we have to continue like we did before. When I see the first game against Barcelona or the league game against Atlético de Madrid this is the way we have to play. And this is the way we have to play if we want to win anything.
LaLiga: Every season it seems as though in January is when the team really starts to take off, is this something that is sort of scheduled ahead of time to try and hit your peak around January or February, which is when all the games start to come thick and fast and it becomes a really packed schedule or is it just a bit of some sort of luck combined with skills and everything else, experience that comes along with it?
Kroos: Of course is always a good sign if you show your best performances at the right time, but of course, I would prefer if we could do this all the season because our situation on the league would be much better, so, on one side that's what we show the last years... we were there when we needed our best performances and especially on the Champions League, but of course I would prefer to be nine points ahead of Barcelona, but for this, we need a little bit more constantly to show our top performances... and for this we lost too many points this season in the league.
LaLiga: What do you think about your city rival Atlético de Madrid, how do you see them this season?
Kroos: I see them as every season, they compete, they fight, they give their all... when I see the game they played some days ago against Juventus, they played very good, they deserved this victory and that means a lot because Juventus is also a great team... They are a competitive team that I think that they have the idea to win the Champions. I see them very good, we had a good game against them in the league weeks ago, but they are always competitive and difficult to beat.
LaLiga: Is there believe in the locker room this season that the league title can still be possible?
Kroos: Yes, of course, because for this we play. We also know that is going to be very difficult because we are 9 points behind. As we all know Barcelona is a great team that normally wins the games. So, it's difficult to come closer and to turn around this with 9 points but at least we can try to win our games and see what happens.
LaLiga: How difficult is it for you on a personal level, also for your teammates, to continue maintaining that high level of success and to continue wanting to achieve even more success?
Kroos: Of course, it's no easy, but we showed that we are able do this because if you win three Champions in a row you have this inside, because also back to back was difficult enough and if you win it three times in a row you have to be this hunger to win more and more. And I think that this team has it. We had sometimes that were easy like when I see the 2017 season. Champions League season we beat the best and we deserved 100% to win this title. Last year we suffer a little bit more in the quarters, in the semi-final, in the final also, but at the end there was no team that beats us, so that means something, that you want 100% to go through to fight, also in a difficult moment, that's what we showed the last years and that's why we deserved our success.
LaLiga: You always look very relaxed, very calm in these matches (ElDerbi or ElClásico). Do you have any method to stay calm?
Kroos: I think it's for my character. I'm not nervous because of these games, because I played a lot of these games in my career. I was lucky to win a lot of things and I don't feel pressure to what would happen if you win or lose the game, I just try to look forward to these games and enjoy. I think it's more my character and believe in my qualities. Maybe it looks like I'm not emotionally and that's ok for me.