Vinicius Junior is ready to light up El Clasico: In a post-Messi and Ronaldo era, the Real Madrid star is finally coming of age and can be the difference when coming up against a Barcelona side on the ropes
- There is a sense that Vinicius Junior is finally coming of age for Real Madrid
- The 21-year-old has enjoyed his best start to a season since joining the club
- It was only a year ago when Benzema was filmed in the tunnel criticising him
- Vinicius’ always had to fight against the doubters at Madrid in his five years there
- But now, in a post-Messi and Ronaldo era, the winger can be the star of the show
The sense that Vinicius Junior is coming of age this season has been brewing for some time in the Spanish capital.
If he dominates Sunday’s Clasico we might be able to completely forget the debate about whether he is going to be good enough for Real Madrid or not.
The 21-year-old lit up the Olympic Stadium on Tuesday against Shakhtar with a performance as good as any seen across the continent this week. His second goal was the best of this round of matches.
There is a sense that Vinicius Junior is finally coming of age for Real Madrid ahead of El Clasico
Spanish newspaper AS ran with the headline ‘Vinicius ready for El Clasico’ on Thursday after he bagged a brace and an assist in Real Madrid’s 5-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk
There was a time when he struggled on to the scoresheet often with scuffed or deflected shots. He has found another level now and the only way looks to be up.
Vinicius has never scored seven goals in a single season before. On Tuesday he scored his seventh of this campaign and we are only 12 games in.
That second goal in Kiev against Shakhtar has been likened to one Cristiano Ronaldo scored against Galatasaray in September of 2013. It was the same step-over, dropped shoulder swerve and rocket shot combination drifting in from the left on to his right foot.
Karim Benzema threw his hands up as the ball hit the back of the net struggling to believe the brilliance. ‘I do that a lot in training,’ said Vinicius afterwards. ‘It can be harder to make it work in games.’
Vinicius’ second goal against Donetsk on Wednesday was the best of this round of matches
It was only a year ago in Monchengladbach that Benzema was filmed in the tunnel criticising his young team-mate. What a difference a year makes – or as Jorge Valdano said earlier this season: ‘it’s as if he has learned to finish overnight.’
Vinicius has been the focus of attention in a Clasico before. In the second meeting between Barcelona and Real Madrid in the 2019-20 season there was just a point in the title race with eight games left and he scored the first goal in a 2-0 win darting in from the right to set Madrid on their way to a victory that would see them go top.
Cristiano was watching from his old private box on the night – the young pretender shaping up to take the crown would still have a couple more false dawns – most notably with two goals last season against Liverpool that then preceded another barren spell, but now it seems he’s here and he’s here to stay.
He has always had to fight against the doubters at Madrid. First there were those who questioned the £38million (€45m) the club paid for him when he was only 16.
It was only a year ago that Benzema (bottom right) was filmed in the tunnel criticising Vinicius
Vinicius was in earshot when Benzema told Ferland Mendy not to pass to the Brazilian
Then there were those who said that he couldn’t finish a squid sandwich (Madrid delicacy) and that his lack of ruthlessness in front of goal was preventing him from being the player the club wanted him to be.
Even when he started scoring the accusation was that he could only do so against weaker sides – the same was said about Cristiano Ronaldo not being able to score against Atletico Madrid, or about Messi not scoring against English sides in Europe.
Vinicius will never be in their category but with both now gone, this is the first Clasico in the post-Messi era he is potentially the answer to the fantasy football deficit their departures have left.
Last year’s was the first Clasico without supporters because of the pandemic, on Sunday the spectators will be back, but something just almost as huge will be missing: Messi. Vinicius is ready to step in albeit for the other side.
It will be the first Clasico in a long time that hasn’t featured either Ronaldo (left) or Messi (right)
Barcelona don’t handle powerful runners too well. Fede Valverde scored against them coming from deep last season and the prospect of Vinicius getting a run at Eric Garcia has Madrid supporters believing this will be their year at the Nou Camp.
Barcelona are without their quickest defender because Ronald Araujo is still some way off fitness after a hamstring problem sustained on international duty.
Sergio Roberto is likely to start at right back alongside Garcia and the prospect of running between those two ought to appeal to Vinicius.
He joked after his brilliant performance in midweek that Carlo Ancelotti shouts across to him when he misses chances: ‘I’m going to take you off’.
He looks destined to win things and is now ready to play a starring role in Real’s biggest games
Madrid’s massively experienced manager has handled the Brazilian forward far better than Zinedine Zidane who never trusted his capacity to get better.
Ancelotti left him out at the start of the season because he believes in hierarchy and the respect owed players who have won things. But Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard have since struggled for fitness and so Vinicius has been the obvious alternative.
He looks like a player destined to win things. Sunday’s Clasico would be a major step on the way to a second LaLiga title. He only started 12 games when Madrid won the league in 2020. His role this time around would be far bigger.