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Vinicius Jr. is Real Madrid’s transformative star on the big stage – with a twist



Vinicius Jr.  is Real Madrid's transformative star on the big stage – with a twist

At the end of Tuesday night’s dizzying 2-2 draw against Bayern Munich, Real Madrid’s press officer moved quickly to find Vinicius Junior on the pitch and give him a training shirt.

When the Brazilian was half-naked after exchanging shirts with Bayern substitute Bryan Zaragoza, it seemed as if the visitors did not want him to catch a cold. That’s because Madrid can’t afford anything like a scare with their star player, who had just pulled his team out of the fire with their two goals in the first leg of the semi-final of this Champions League.

He did it as a number 9 and on a night when the 14-time European Cup/Champions League winners faced Harry Kane, the striker their coach Carlo Ancelotti had unsuccessfully asked for last summer.

Madrid’s interest did not extend beyond testing Kane and the England captain eventually joined Bayern from Tottenham Hotspur. Ancelotti’s side instead welcomed a then 33-year-old Joselu on loan, who had just been relegated to Espanyol. In an injury-hit season that has seen him short of both centre-backs and forwards, the Italian coach has become an expert on survival.

In the first part he devised a new position for Jude Bellingham, another summer signing, who scored 17 goals in 21 appearances before the Christmas break. In the second half, he helped Vinicius Jr reach new levels, while gradually centering his position and even turning him into a leader in Madrid’s attacking line.


Vinicius Jr’s new role at Real Madrid: closer to goal and more advanced

Vinicius Jr’s first goal last night was the work of a pure striker, a clever run to create space at the back, a clinically cool finish past the oncoming Manuel Neuer. The Brazilian ran to the corner flag in celebration, kissed the Madrid badge on his shirt, danced and spread his arms as Bellingham does after scoring, before walking back onto the pitch.

Vinicius Jr bows to Kroos after the opening goal (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)

There he bowed to Toni Kroos, around whom more than half of his teammates had already gathered. On his former home base, Kroos’ through ball in front of the goal was something beautiful. Even though he played it afterwards.

“A lot of credit to Vini, he offered me the pass with his movement. As I know him, he always goes into space. The pass was not that special,” said Kroos.

“We train a lot together and we know each other very well,” said Vinicius Jr., who became only the fourth man in Champions League history to score in three consecutive semi-finals.

But Madrid had started the match badly, very badly. And Ancelotti had been very angry.

In the tenth minute he turned and stuck four fingers at his son and assistant coach Davide, complaining about the number of times their players had already lost the ball. Substitutes Eder Militao and Dani Ceballos rose from the bench to signal the direction and encouragement was shouted towards the playing field.

That mood suddenly changed when, about fifteen minutes later, Kroos and Vinicius Jr. scored the opening goal with their devastatingly simple move. Kroos received the ball in midfield and immediately saw what needed to be done, showing his teammate the way. Vinicius Jr. saw what he meant and carried it out. It came out of nowhere. Bayern were caught, although head coach Thomas Tuchel almost predicted it.

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“If you look at their goals or their chances and rewind ten seconds, you don’t see them coming,” Tuchel said before the match.

Bayern came back strongly in the second half. Leroy Sane’s powerful attack caused major damage. On the sidelines, Ancelotti scolded Vinicius Jr. and Aurelien Tchouameni from. Four minutes later, as Kane prepared to take the penalty that put the home side 2-1 ahead and international teammate Bellingham tried to deny him, Vinicius Jr had another quick encounter with the Ancelottis.

And as he has done so many times before, the Brazilian led the uprising on the big stage.

Madrid didn’t give up, they never do. Their fans, who approached the match as if it were a final, with 4,000 people in the away stands at the Allianz Arena, chanted “Hasta el final, vamos Real!” (“Until the end, let’s really go!”).

In the 83rd minute, when the clever feet of Vinicius Jr. Finding Rodrygo in the penalty area, there was no doubt who would take the penalty after the latter had made a mistake. Vinicius Jr. had scored from the spot against Barcelona nine days earlier in El Clasico and he would take responsibility again. Lucas Vazquez grabbed the ball and pushed away some Bayern players who tried to harass his teammate.

Vinicius Jr. gently set him down and wiped the sweat from his face with his shirt. The sound was almost deafening.

But Madrid’s Brazilian talisman slipped softly under pressure. He scored again and went to the corner again to celebrate. Objects thrown from the stands landed around him as he crowned the moment by pointing to the number 7 on his back – the same one worn for so long in Madrid by his idol Cristiano Ronaldo.

By sending that penalty past Neuer, he scored 32 goals (21 goals and 11 assists) for Madrid this season, putting him ahead of Bellingham by one.

According to data provider Opta, he has been directly involved in more goals in the Champions League than any other player since the start of the 2021/22 season (31 in total; 16 goals and 15 assists).

This is Vinicius Jr, a total player who has evolved to the point where he could also be the striker Ancelotti wanted last summer.

“I’m very happy that I was able to score two goals,” he said from the sidelines after the match, after being named player of the match. “Now it’s time for a magical evening at home.”

It all summed up the merits of Ancelotti, his staff and Vinicius Jr: he had an idea to fill a void and develop it well to the point where a left winger can be the best player in an away game in the semi-final of the Champions League. in front.

“Now he has learned to move well without the ball, at the back of the rivals,” Ancelotti said. “And then he is very cold in front of the goal.”

(Top photo: Daniel Kopatsch/Getty Images)