Use, or lose? Vinicius Jr's Real Madrid career remains in total limbo

Paul Macdonald
Vinicius Junior celebrates his goal against Liverpool

Real Madrid fans have been waiting patiently for Vinicius Jr to turn into something close to a €50m player.

The Brazilian was the first arrival in Madrid’s pivot to Brazilians, after which Rodrygo and Reinier followed. The total bill for the trio was in the region of €140m and it’s fair to say that the Spanish giants haven’t reaped the results of that.

Reinier appeared fleetingly for Borussia Dortmund while on loan last season, while Rodrygo showed glimpses in the Champions League, particularly against Liverpool, of what could be to come.

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But what of Vinicius? The forward is entering into his fourth season at the Santiago Bernabeu, and is now 21. He still has four years remaining on his contract so even if Madrid chose to sell him, they would require a substantial sum to offset what they spent.

So what should Carlo Ancelotti do?

Why Vinicius should stay at Real Madrid

Quite simply, Madrid lack real options in the wide forward positions. It was a long-standing problem throughout last season; coach Zinedine Zidane initially looked set to start the season with a midfield diamond hosting Martin Odegaard as his No. 10, but he turned against that idea quite early and opted for his tried-and-tested 4-3-3.

The only problem was - and the problem persists now - none of the four wide men have anywhere near the level of output the club needs.

And while it may be a damning indictment, when comparing Vinicius, Rodrygo, Marco Asensio and Eden Hazard, Vinicius is actually the most productive of the four.

Vinicius’ combined xG + xA P90 of 0.33 ranks ahead of Rodrygo (0.32), Asensio (0.29) and Hazard (0.24). These totals are not good.

It’s Real Madrid’s biggest weakness as it stands. But singling out Vinicius for particular criticism in this regard is unfair; all wide forward options that Madrid have will need to step up in the coming season.

How Vinicius fares

STAT (20/21)VINI JRRODRYGOASENSIOHAZARD
xG P900.170.130.160.15
xA P900.160.190.130.09
Shots P901.0211.40.85
Dribbles P904.82.723

Madrid cannot rely on Karim Benzema as virtually the only source of goals once again for the entire campaign. The Frenchman scored 23 in the league and the next highest was Casemiro with six.

The lack of input from other attacking players is bordering on the embarrassing. Isco, Odegaard, Mariano Diaz and Luka Jovic (before going on loan), netted a single league goal between them in nearly 1800 minutes of action.

So this is a Madrid problem, not a Vinicius one.

Why Vinicius should stay at Real Madrid

The counterargument to this is that Vinicius is a €50m player, thought to be a generational one, but that has absolutely not transpired. He may still be young, he may still be learning and we have had a disruptive pandemic where he hasn’t had the thrill of playing regularly at the Santiago Bernabeu.

But the output, even the potential output, is just so far below expectations that the question needs to be asked if he will ever become even half of the player Madrid had hoped he was.

And perhaps most damningly, his numbers are getting worse, not better. There’s a caveat in that when he originally arrived he spent some of his time as an option in replacement to Benzema through the middle, but not all that often.

And perhaps most damningly, his numbers are getting worse, not better.
- Paul Macdonald

And the drop off is stark in all aspects of his game. His expected goals has fallen from 0.26 in 2018/19 to 0.16 last season. His shots per game from 2.7 to just above one, efforts on target from 0.89 to just 0.4. He’s hitting the target with a shot one in every three games now, a negligible threat even by his own standards.

Indeed from his first season to last, dribbles are down. Successful dribbles are down. Ball recoveries are down while balls lost in his own half are up. This is not the type of trend which would suggest we can expect Vinicius to come flying out of the blocks in the new season.

What’s more, Madrid will have to spend. Their outlay last summer was zero, for the first time in the 21st century, and while it’s proven shrewd in terms of allowing them a little headroom this summer, the only regular target is the pursuit of Kylian Mbappe. It remains to be seen whether this happens and if it does, it will likely take the full weight of their budget to acquire him.

Conclusion

With numbers like these and so much emphasis on data, would there be a queue of suitors willing to purchase Vinicius in any case? It could be a case that he needs a fresh start, but would he get one even if he wanted it?

And with Madrid hardly overflowing with options in attack, it seems likely Vini Jr will get another season to prove he wasn’t €50m very much wasted.