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El Clasico is Vinicius Jr’s game

At 21 years of age and with eight Clasicos under his belt, Vinicius Jr is already a hero of the fixture.

FC Barcelona v Real Madrid CF - LaLiga Santander Photo by Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Vinicius Jr, originally an 18-year-old playing in Castilla, made his El Clasico debut under dire circumstances. Real Madrid were in full self-destruction mode when he arrived onto the scene at the Spotify Camp Nou (formerly known as just Camp Nou). Madrid were into their second manager (Santiago Solari) out of the three who managed the side in 2018-19. A visit to Barcelona was not something anyone was particularly looking forward to as they had conceded five goals under the previous manager (Julen Lopetegui) in the same arena.

Eventually, Madrid got away with a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final before getting blown away by 0-3 at the Bernabeu in a week’s time. But that 1-1 draw saw Vinicius Jr taking on Barcelona with the kind of spirit that Los Merengues had not seen in a while. That game painted a projection of Vinicius that remained true until the start of the 2021-22 season. This guy was fast, devastatingly good on the break, a gifted dribbler and line breaker, but an awful finisher.

Vinicius did not get a chance to appear in the first Clasico after Zidane’s return. In the away fixture in 2019-20, he remained an unused substitute. In the return fixture, however, Vinicius Jr created one of the most iconic moments of his career. This game is now significant for many reasons. This was the last full-house game at the Bernabeu before renovations had started and before the pandemic had broken out. Vinicius Jr, with the aid of Toni Kroos’ orchestral direction, scored a goal at the near post goal with a deflection from Gerard Pique of all people. The Bernabeu erupted as Vinicius proceeded to do the ‘Siiiuu’ celebration while Cristiano Ronaldo was in attendance! He added a goal to his tally against Barcelona this time with his impressive line-breaking ability already on show. He tormented that left half-space during the entire game and Barcelona’s backline hardly ever had an answer for the questions he asked.

In 2020-21, Vinicius put in another couple of solid performances vs. Barcelona but the goals were just not there. However, the backdrop had completely changed in 2021-22. Vinicius Jr has taken the leap. He has not just been Real Madrid’s second-highest scorer (and arguably second-best player) this season, he has been one of the world’s best. With 17 goals and 14 assists in 38 games, he has broken the restrain of not being decisive enough, which haunted him for almost two and a half seasons in the Spanish Capital. This leap has made him frightening. When Real Madrid visited the Spotify Camp Nou earlier this season, Vini Jr didn’t score but the fear of Vinicius Jr was pretty evident.

Not only did he send Barcelona’s defenders into desolation on both halves of the pitch, but he also took the whistling crowd head-on. After finishing the job, he walked off the pitch with the grin of a proper Real Madrid talisman.

Apart from his natural attacking instincts, Vinicius has always been a player who tracks back and puts in a shift to cover the fullbacks. For a player who is producing as many goals as Vinicius this season, adding defensive work-rate to that repertoire makes him a dream player for any coach.

Vinicius Jr has appeared in eight El Clasico fixtures. His two goals vs. Barcelona (one in LaLiga and one in the Supercopa) don’t even tell a fraction of the story. He inflicted fear in Barcelona’s high defensive line time and time again. This fear wouldn’t appear in stats or charts. But this fear is necessary. Real Madrid needed a player who could inflict this fear and Vinicius Jr is here to continue that. This is his game.