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Measuring Success: What’s Changed in Vinicius Junior’s Game to Ignite the Goal Glut

The Brazilian is the best form of his life, but what elements of his game have been adjusted to spur the sudden change?

Levante UD v Real Madrid CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images

There is a great business axiom famed by Peter Drucker who was quoted as saying, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”. What Drucker is essentially saying, is by not gathering data and reviewing results, adjustments cannot be made to either right the ship, or keep the path steady. The only way to put this axiom into practice is to have a clear goal, or a guiding principle. For young Vinicius Junior, that guiding principle has come from his manager. Following the match against Levante, Carlo Ancelotti revealed the Brazilian’s new focus:

“Vinicius is very good in one-on-one situations. As for scoring goals, I’ve told him that it’s rare to score after taking five or six touches. To score, you need one touch or maybe two maximum. You have to be in the box”

Was there validity to Ancelotti’s words? Data taken from PremierLeague.com found that 88% of the goals scored last season (2020-2021), were scored inside the box. In a study done comparing goals from La Liga, the EPL, MLS, and Serie A from 2004-2009, 82% of goals were scored inside the box. A similar study conducted by Tony Carr, former West Ham Academy youth director, also found that 82% of goals were scored inside the box and 94% of goals were scored with two touches or less. At Euro 2012, The Sports Journal found that 90% of the goals scored were inside the box, specifically within the penalty spot to the goal line. Ancelotti’s words hold substance — the majority of goals are scored inside the area.

Flashforward a month later, and Vini has scored four goals in four La Liga games, already matching his highest ever goal-scoring tally in a full season. All four goals have been scored inside the area. All four goals, once inside the area, have been with two or less touches. It’s like a lightbulb went off.

The goals have come as a byproduct of material changes to Vinicius’s game. From last season alone, Vinicius shot volume has gone up. He has taken an average of two additional (+2) shots per game and an average of (~+2.5 ) additional shots on target per game. He has reduced the number of yards from where he shoots by (-2.6) yards vs last season and by (-6.3) yards since his 2018-2019 season when he first broke out. The closer you are to goal, the better chance of scoring. More shots, more shots on target, and closer to goal = higher probability of goals. The Brazilian’s per 90 non penalty xG is a mouth-watering 0.76 — a figure that will likely fall, but if the above metrics on shots and distance hold, will not be way off.

Data from FBREF (Statsbomb) | Visualization Mehedi Hassan
Data from FBREF (Statsbomb) | Visualization Mehedi Hassan

It’s not only the Brazilian’s shooting that has improved, but his positioning as well. He is starting higher up the pitch, positioning himself on the oppositions backline, ready to ignite a transition. Data from Fbref, shows Vinicius is pressing half as much as he did last season, instead conserving that energy for the counter attack. He is taking an average of 7 more touches in the final third per game (+21% vs last year), and receiving +1 additional progressive passes in the final third vs last season.

*All stats provided on per90 basis from Fbref (Statsbomb)

Data from FBREF (Statsbomb) | Visualization Mehedi Hassan

The subtle tweaks to his game mean coupled with the work done in the off-season to prepare his body, the mental work done with a psychologist as well as his Real Madrid coaches, means Vinicius finally found the necessary ingredients to end his goal scoring woes. Opposition teams will be wary. The scouting report is out. Systems will be implemented to defend against Vinicius and mitigate his influence. In-game improvisation will often be required, but keeping those guiding principles - like limited touches in the box and shooting closer to goal, will help stay the 21-year-old stay on track. The Brazilian has always been an X-factor, now his unique skill-set partnered with end product can catapult him to a new level as one of the world’s best players.