Manchester City defender Kyle Walker has expressed his respect for Real Madrid winger Vinicius Junior ahead of their Champions League semi-final second leg clash on Wednesday.
Walker and Vinicius had a memorable duel in the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu last week, which ended in a 1-1 draw. The Brazilian youngster scored the opening goal for the hosts, but also attempted a rainbow flick over Walker’s head in the second half.
The England international revealed that he hugged Vinicius after the game and asked him not to try that again, as he did not want to “become a meme”. He also praised the 21-year-old’s talent and said he was looking forward to facing him again at the Etihad Stadium.
“I don’t think it’s just about A and B, it’s a team game. It’s a personal battle, against one of the best players in the world. I’ve faced many who have been just as good as him. Whoever is picked to play him, it’ll be a big battle,” Walker said at the pre-match press conference on Tuesday.
“I take it as any other game, you have to show him respect. Like Mbappe at the World Cup. You give them the respect they deserve. I’m representing City, the ambition for the club is massive. If I can’t compete with these top players, I shouldn’t be here. I need to make sure I come against the best and can deal with the best.”
️Kyle Walker: “We give Vinicius the respect he deserves. But we’re not going to let him go ahead and score. If I can’t compete against these great players then I shouldn’t be here. I have to deal with the best” pic.twitter.com/MAwDhbQXlu— Managing Madrid (@managingmadrid) May 16, 2023
Walker was then asked about the warm embrace he exchanged with Vinicius after the first leg.
“I went to hug him because he tried to rainbow flick me,” Walker explained. “I was like please don’t try that again and make me a meme. Boxers have a battle and shake hands after. You give the level of respect because they deserve it. Carrying a massive club over the line in the Champions League, you show your respect.”
Walker was also asked by a member of the Spanish press whether or not Vinicius is a “provocative player”.
“He’s not a provocative player, “ Walker said. “He is a very good player, does what he needs to get his team over the line. I don’t get involved in it all, if there’s trash talk it doesn’t bother me. I’ve been through more difficult things than people winding me up. I’ve seen him go down easily, it’s part of the game to get an advantage over your opponent. Don’t take his football away from him, he’s a top player.”
Walker also said that it was a big week for City, who are aiming to reach the Champions League final and also clinch another Premier League title.
“It’s big to everyone in the dressing room,” Walker said of the importance of tomorrow’s game. “We know the goals at the end of it, it’s a massive week for the club. We’ve put ourselves in a good position compared to two months ago.
“We’ve got two games left in the league and we need to win one of them to win it. We’ve got Real Madrid tomorrow night which is going to be difficult but we’ve got an away goal which could be crucial.”
City will host Real Madrid on Wednesday at 20:00. The winner will face either AC Milan or Inter Milan in the final.