Real Madrid: Studying Vinicius Junior

Vinicius Jr of Real Madrid during La Liga match between Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid at Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid Spain. February 09, 2018. (Photo by PeterSabok/COOLMedia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Vinicius Jr of Real Madrid during La Liga match between Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid at Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid Spain. February 09, 2018. (Photo by PeterSabok/COOLMedia/NurPhoto via Getty Images) /

As Vinicius Junior has risen from wonder kid with promise, to a regular La Liga starter, the quality of his play and his decision making has become a discussion point amongst Real Madrid fans. Here we investigate what exactly he brings to the table and what areas he can improve.

I want to preface absolutely everything I say here with the fact that Vinicius Jr is 18 years old and playing at the biggest and best club in the world: Real Madrid.

What he is doing is absolutely remarkable, and I would rather have him than any up and coming Brazilian winger on earth. What will follow will simply point out what he does well and what he needs to improve on all while trying to describe how he is so effective in Santiago Solari’s side.

When I saw Vinicius in person during Real’s International Champions Cup tour last summer, I assumed I was looking at a kid who would spend a year with the Castilla team, then find a loan to a La Liga side, and perhaps be with the first team in 2021.

The first thing that was clear to me was his explosive speed on the ball, followed shortly by his willingness to challenge defenders.

Now in the first team well ahead of schedule, what I saw that day is exactly what we have gotten from Vini on in the league. It seems the higher the level of competition, the more he tries to dribble.

In Brazil last season, he averaged 6.0 dribbles per 90 minutes. That stepped up to 6.8 in La Liga and a stunning 8.4 per 90 in the Champions League (albeit in very limited minutes).

That sheer will to dribble has been very important in Solari’s scheme. Movement between the usual front three of Vinicius, Karim Benzema, and Lucas Vazquez is very fluid. All three are willing to backtrack to receive the ball and the wingers, in particular, look to progress the ball on the dribble to create shorter crossing opportunities.

You can see how Solari values this because both Lucas and Vinicius average more dribbles per 90 minutes than Gareth Bale, who has been reduced to a substitute role.

The downside to Vinicius’ dribbling is that he is only completing 3.5 of those 6.1 dribbles. I put this entirely down to youthful exuberance.

There is no reason to get too frustrated with him, however. As he gets older, he will do a better job of deciding when and when not to dribble, but in the meantime, the same confidence that makes him so helpful is what causes him to try to force things (and sometimes shoot when Toni Kroos is wide open.)

For comparison, Neymar attempted 8.7 dribbles per 90 his first season at Barcelona, and he completed a much lower percentage (46%) of them than Vinicius does now (57%).

All this dribbling turns into an end product of 1.67 key passes and four shots per 90 minutes. I am not too worried about goals and assists, I think if quality passes and shots are being produced, then eventually the final tallies will take care of themselves.

In this case, his work results in 0.33 xG (expected goals) and 0.21 xA (expected assists) per 90 minutes. The xG number is fourth on the team (behind, in order: Mariano, Benzema, Bale) and the xA number is fifth (Asensio, Vazquez, Reguillon, Mariano) remember, Vinicius is at least four years younger (often more) than all these players.

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The bottom line of all these numbers is that Vinicius is, at a very young age, already showing he has what it takes to be an absolute superstar at Real Madrid. His xGChain90 (xG of possessions he is involved in) is third best on the team, showing exactly how central he is to our hopes this year.

Be patient with him, as he ages he will grow wiser in his decision making, and most of all, enjoy the ride and thank president Florentino Perez for spending €40 million on a player almost all of us never knew existed.

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