Rafael Benitez has refused to blame Toni Kroos for Real Madrid's sudden collapse in Wednesday's 4-3 Champions League victory over Shakhtar Donetsk.
Kroos came off the bench with his side 3-0 up in Ukraine and, though Cristiano Ronaldo soon made it four, the hosts hit back with three goals in six minutes as Madrid edged to a nervy win.
Much of the post-match criticism was aimed at Kroos' display, but Benitez moved to defend the Germany midfielder.
"I don't share the opinion that he caused a decline in the team's performance level," said Benitez.
"Kroos came on during the match, controlled the ball well, let the game flow and was accurate with his passing.
"It wasn't the team's performance level that dropped, but rather a mistake that led to a penalty. Kroos didn't cause our performance level to drop off, instead he contributed towards keeping it high and he did so superbly."
Mateo Kovacic featured for the full 90 minutes again versus Shakhtar after being benched for a number of games and Benitez explained that the former Inter man needed some rest after an intense start to the season.
"The nice problem we're facing is having so many top quality options to choose from," he added. "Mateo showed us what he can do at the start of the season. After that he suffered with some muscle fatigue and needed to be rested.
"He's fit now and I'm hoping he can get some playing time because the competition for places is good for the group."
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