How should Real Madrid handle Vinicius Junior when he struggles?

Real Madrid, Vinicius Junior (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Vinicius Junior (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images) /

After two pretty bad games from Vinicius Jr, a question arose: Does Vinicius start the next game for Real Madrid, or does Rodrygo Goes replace him in the lineup?

After an emphatic and crucial win over city rivals Atletico Madrid, Zinedine Zidane would’ve cracked open a bottle of beer, and taken a deep breath. He has probably saved his job at Real Madrid’s hot seat. He (and the players) saved the club from humiliation and embarrassment in the Champions League. He got the crucial head-to-head advantage over Atletico three days later. The problems that existed in the squad, the tactical wrinkles, the lack of drive, everything seems to be sorted, for now at least, according to most fans. Everything but one. The interesting case of Vinicius Junior, and Zinedine Zidane’s knack for starting him even when he’s not in form. There’s a solid reason for that. Let’s start from scratch.

Vinicius has had a really bad string of games recently for the club. His first season was great, his second was good, and his third started off well but now has taken a toll for the worse. The games against Borussia Monchengladbach and Atletico Madrid were probably the worst couple of games (or two of the worst, at least) that he has ever had at the club. It’s worrying. Y’all remember his bunch of games before the beautiful golazo he scored against Osasuna last year, which turned his season around? This reminds me of that, but slightly worse because of the time this is (or was, more on that later) happening at.

Real Madrid played three hugely important games this past week which changed the narrative of their season to an extent. Vinicius didn’t perform that well in any of those games. Yeah, he scored (or forced Yassine Bounou to score an own goal) but his decision-making was way off, and he was largely ineffective.

Against Monchengladbach, he was merely a bystander. He had fewer touches than any Real Madrid player on the pitch. Yes, Courtois included. His passing was off, he tried things that were not effective. He lost the ball a bunch of times. It looked like he wasn’t even on the same page as the rest of the team, something which usually cannot be said for Vinicius because regardless of how he performs, his presence is always felt. He had that one sequence where Kroos had the ball beside him and he passed it to him, but Vinicius had started his run way earlier, and it resulted in an unforced giveaway. In this game and the next, he was almost non-threatening when he had the ball. And it was a little difficult to watch the guy play the way he played.

We have seen him play incredibly well. I am not denying the potential he has, but it wasn’t something I particularly liked from him. Against Atletico, it was the same, but worse. He had even lesser touches than he had in the previous game against Monchengladbach (34). He completed zero of his four dribbles, zero shot-creating actions, zero key passes, zero shots. It was not fun to watch. To put things into perspective, he only had nine more touches than Luis Suarez, who, frankly, was practically invisible against Real Madrid. I genuinely forgot he was playing at some points.

The question after the game was, why not play someone who has been in somewhat decent form, and is suited to that left-wing spot too, in the next game? Rodrygo Goes usually plays on the right, but that’s not because of him being better on the right than on the left. It’s actually quite the opposite. He only plays there because he doesn’t have a choice. Zidane prefers Eden Hazard (when fit) and Vinicius on the left, and Rodrygo on the right. But, Rodrygo arguably could’ve actually done a lot better than Vinicius Jr in those two games (I know he started on the right against ‘Gladbach, but you know what I mean). Rodrygo doesn’t have the freedom on the right to cut inside with his strong foot as he does on the left. On the right his options are pretty limited, he can either cross the ball or pass to a midfielder to cut inside off the ball. He’s also a better defender than Vinicius Jr.

The question I was talking about? It was answered when Real Madrid played Athletic Bilbao yesterday. It was another good performance from ‘Los Blancos’, but what made it even better was that Vinicius Jr had a good game. It’s moments like this where Zidane’s trust in his players pays dividends. What we saw from Vinicius was something we hadn’t seen in a few games. And don’t get me wrong, it was by no means a perfect game from the winger, but it was good. Pretty good.

That’s why this case interests me a lot. Zidane kept him in the starting XI even when he had another option in Rodrygo, who could’ve done a better job against Atletico on the left, or maybe even against Bilbao. If it were someone else, he probably wouldn’t have started (you know who I’m talking about). He kept his faith in a youngster, which is something that doesn’t usually happen. I still think Rodrygo has a higher ceiling than Vinicius Jr, but to see the man from Flamengo play well was a relieving sight. Zidane knew Vinicius needed one more game to revive his form, and that happened. Hopefully, this continues.

Next. Ranking Real Madrid's Best Forwards Of The 2010's. dark

Vinicius Junior not being in a good moment is (or was) not exactly hurting the team. But, if (and when) something like this ever happens again, I would love to see Rodrygo get the nod over Vinicius for that left-wing spot for a couple of games. That way, the offensive production won’t be decreased, and Rodrygo will get a chance to show Zidane how he can play on the left. This could even act as a means of motivation for Vinicius Jr, should something like this ever happen. That’s what having two insanely talented wingers gets you!