Real Madrid’s Brazilian winger Vinicius Jr has been at the centre of most good things the team has done this season. With 10 goals and 5 assists in all competitions according to stats from Transfermarkt, Vinicius — along with Fede Valverde — has been the talismanic figure for Los Merengues.
It’s no secret that Real Madrid have looked to Karim Benzema for inspiration so many times in the past few seasons. The Frenchman came up with goals time and again during last season’s Champions League winning run, before deservedly winning the Ballon d’Or for his efforts.
Of course the likes of Rodrygo Goes and Vinicius chipped in with timely contributions but it wasn’t up until the final that it seemed like the over-dependency on Benzema had come to a halt. Both Valverde and Vinicius combined to score the goal that brought home the European Cup before stepping into the new season with the same kind of continuity.
Now, while Vinicius has been nothing short of phenomenal this year there does seem to be a notable drop-off in the intensity with which he goes about his business. Without doubt the goals have come and have come at a decent frequency, but Madridistas seem to be worried about other aspects of his game.
Vinicius is doing fine at Real Madrid, and the scrutiny is overblown
The criticisms that follow the 22-year-old include a lack of enthusiasm to defend and the fact that he hasn’t always been at his ruthless best in the final third of the pitch. While the fault-finding comes mostly from a small of section of fans, it makes little sense to expect the same kind of output as last season.
That isn’t to say that Vinicius outperformed his potential by a huge margin last season but only that fans must keep in mind how crucial it is to render our expectations situation-wise. Vinicius went into last season as Ancelotti’s first choice left winger but not as a guaranteed name on the team sheet. For Brazil too, he now represents his nation in 9 out of 10 International fixtures and holds arguably as much onus as Neymar Jr for the Selecao’s success at the World Cup.
Having played so many games in a season of this sort, It’s commendable the kind of return he’s offered (most notably in the absence of Benzema). Not long ago he was regarded as someone who couldn’t do without the Frenchman’s presence for Real Madrid.
The merits outweigh the risks
Madridistas were first treated to Vinicius’ talents when he first landed on the scene at the age of 18. Him and Benzema have since developed this almost telepathic connection on the field of play. For all the dazzling pace and footwork he does have, he has tended to struggle on the decision-making side of things at times. While the Frenchman’s elegance and neat movement does cover for Vinicius’ flaws, some of the Brazilian’s more outlying weaknesses come to the fore when the Ballon d’Or winner isn’t on the team-sheet.
As opposed to that, someone like Rodrygo Goes can only make Vini’s already-existing strengths look good – not hide his flaws entirely. To bet on Vinicius is to bet on a player whose risk-reward trade-off has always been on the extremes. We take a gamble every time a ball gets pinged out wide into Vinicius’ feet. It may or may not go our way with most other players facing up to a cluster of defenders but Vinicius’ deceptive and often effective qualities of running at defenders makes it worth that risk more often than not.
In any case, it’s difficult to look away from the kind of numbers Vinicius has put up this season. For a player who’s scored in each of his last three games, we’d never be having this conversation at another club anyway. Those however, do happen to be the games wherein his general competency has been questioned most. He played the entirety of the 90 minutes in the defeat at Leipzig but was taken off after 62 minutes in the win over Celtic.
According to Fbref, he finished both games with 5 shots to his name and a goal-a-piece but with context, these were two very different performances. Between the two extremes was the LaLiga game vs Girona where he managed just 2 shots, scoring from a tap-in. Although comprehensively speaking that was the best version of Vinicius we’ve seen in these past two weeks.
The conversation about his effectiveness and productivity is an entirely different one from one about his involvement as a whole. There can and will be phases in between games where we see the Vinicius of old – countless missed passes, running the ball into a defender’s feet or losing possession cheaply with a heavy touch, an unnecessary flick or trick, so on and so forth.
These instances will subside as his maturing takes place down the years, and so will the questions over his lack of ruthlessness on occasion.
To conclude, It’s important to look around at other young talent in top European teams. Players Vinicius’ age are being rested ahead of the World Cup, with a lot of them already ruled out of the tournament with injury and it’s only November.
A drop in intensity in the midst of the most unusual of seasons is simply a sign of the player feeling the after-effects of a summer that was cut-short and a World Cup in November. Only at Real Madrid do you find such strong criticism on the shoulders of a 22 year-old top scorer. Such are the levels at this club and such are the standards Vinicius has set for himself.