Real Madrid: Examining Vinicius Junior’s finishing woes

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

Real Madrid fans should be pleased with Vinicius Junior’s development to this point, but if there’s one area where we’d like to see the most improvement, then it is his finishing.

In Vinicius Junior, Real Madrid have a 20-year-old winger who can become one of the world’s best attacking players and is already widely praised as one of the most accomplished young talents in Europe’s top five leagues.

He first burst onto the scene in the middle of the 2018-2019 campaign, and then after returning from an injury, he built on his reputation with some big-game performances early in 2020. Then, early in the 2020-2021 season, Vini scored three goals in a relatively short space of time, but he has not scored since.

At Real Madrid, Vinicius is expected to become a goal-scoring wide forward who can do more than just take defenders on or create opportunities with direct running and ball-carrying. In order to be a star forward at a club like Real Madrid, a player must be prolific in their goal-scoring. Not everyone can be the next Cristiano Ronaldo on the left side, no, but if you want to start for this club, you had better at least bang in double-digit goals per season as a left forward.

Real Madrid fans constantly point out Vinicius Junior’s sub-standard finishing

Vinicius has been a quality player for Los Blancos since the 2018-2019 season, but he is most usually criticized for his wasteful finishing. A lack of confidence, specifically in his weak foot and in his range of finishes beyond cutting inside for a right-footed curler, is a culprit.

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There are cases when a player is criticized because we remember a few mistakes that stand out. And from there, a narrative builds. Even if, upon further examination, the chance was more difficult than we believed in live time, so to speak, it does not matter. The player is still criticized, and I have seen this phenomenon several times with Vinicius.

Last season, the young winger scored three goals in La Liga in 1,364 minutes of action. He underperformed his xG by -1.3, according to, as only Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard had a worse mark in La Liga among forwards.

But there was at least one silver lining with Vinicius last season; he was hitting the target. About 41 percent of his total shot attempts were on target, so he ranked eighth among qualified players (min. 900 league minutes).

That’s not much consolation, though, when you consider that two of the players with a higher shots on target percentage had an even worse xG performance – right back Dani Carvajal and Hazard, who scored just one goal in 1,077 minutes.

Real Madrid, Vinicius Junior
Real Madrid, Vinicius Junior (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images) /

How do Vinicius Junior’s stats stack up in 2020-2021?

This season, Vinicius Junior is already close to matching his 2019-2020 tally with two goals in La Liga, as well as a goal in the Champions League. The problem is that his underlying shooting numbers are abysmal. Last season, they were poor. But this season, his finishing has been even worse, statistically speaking.

First, let’s look at the least important metric, which is shots on target percentage. I say it is the least important metric, because Joao Felix has a lower mark than Vinicius despite having more than double (five) the number of goals and being one of La Liga’s top forwards this season. The stat has limited utility, but it is nonetheless notable that Vini’s rate is down to 28.6. Among players with a minimum of 10 shots, only Marco Asensio is worse off among Madrid forwards.

And to clarify that further, Vini’s average shooting distance is 13 yards from goal, which is the lowest distance among forwards – even moreso than Benzema. His average shooting distance is seven yards closer than Asensio, which, on the one hand, means he may be taking better shots. On the other hand, it highlights that Vini may be even less accurate overall. Referring back to Joao Felix, his average shooting distance is 18.1 yards from goal.

So it comes as no surprise, then, that Vinicius Junior is last among Real Madrid players with 2.1 fewer goals than his xG.

There is one final piece of data I would like to discuss. Earlier in the piece, I mentioned Vinicius lacking in confidence with his left foot. Per, only Luka Modric and Casemiro have attempted fewer left-footed shots than Vinicius Junior, who takes 767 minutes to shoot with his left. Basically, he attempts a left-footed shot every eight or nine matches. To compare, Vini takes two shots per game with his right.

You’d expect a right-footed player to take more shots with their stronger foot, and that’s obviously smart, right? The problem is the disparity in chances. Vinicius takes 17 times more shots with his right than his left this season. Compare that to Eden Hazard (three times more with his stronger right foot), Lucas Vazquez (2.7 times the difference), Luka Jovic (5.0), and Karim Benzema (1.8). Even Marco Asensio “only” takes nine times more shots with his left foot than his right.

Vinicius has to work on his weaker foot and has to increase his range of finishes. If we look at the two midfielders who shoot with their weaker foot less frequently, both players can score goals in other ways. Modric’s trivela is so deadly that he doesn’t even need to use his left to shoot. And Casemiro can score goals with his head. So what special scoring trait does Vinicius have that makes him unique to other left wingers? He must find that within his game.

Real Madrid, Vinicius Junior
Vinicius Junior of Real Madrid (Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

Keeping Vinicius Junior’s struggles in front of goal in their proper context

But all is not bad. Vinicius is not taking his chances and is underperforming his xG badly, in comparison to his teammates, but there are some very good players in La Liga who are doing even worse in this aspect. Antoine Griezmann, Lionel Messi, Nabil Fekir, Joselu, and Lucas Ocampos are on that list of the seven players with a worse G-xG stat.

We can put a positive spin on things by saying that Vinicius, who is 20 years old and not nearly as far along in his development as those players, has the highest expected goals per shot of any Real Madrid player in La Liga this season. So while he is not converting his chances, which is frustrating and leads to the most headlines, we can also say that he’s taking good chances. He’s not giving up possession by forcing bad shots.

The problem is that this isn’t basketball (insert Mikel Arteta joke here), and “taking bad shots” isn’t actually as big of a deal in football. Sometimes, a shot-in-the-dark can pay-off big time, as we saw against Elche when Asensio uncorked a rocket from beyond the box that led to Luka Modric’s headed goal off the crossbar.

Vinicius’ finishing needs work. The numbers, as detailed in this article, concretely back up what our eyes tell us. There is no bias on our part. At the same time, Sergio Ramos, for example, has a G-xG of 1.8. There are several great players in the league who aren’t finishing like they should.

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That’s not to excuse Vinicius, but it is to say that we should give a 20-year-old some grace, especially when more experienced peers with similar plaudits are performing worse. Vinicius cannot be complacent and must keep improving, but there’s reason to believe with more games under his belt and the trust of Zinedine Zidane, he can get to a point where we are talking about him as that 10-goal winger Real Madrid want him to be.