LaLiga: 'Baby Galactico' Vinicius Junior shines in El Clasico to revive Real Madrid's title aspirations

In many ways, Vinicius is still a 'baby Galactico' finding his way in a depleted frontline in the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era, but his maturity, responsibility and precision finish show that he is taking it all into his stride

Samindra Kunti March 02, 2020 09:01:04 IST
LaLiga: 'Baby Galactico' Vinicius Junior shines in El Clasico to revive Real Madrid's title aspirations
  • This Clasico was denuded of the vibrant football and stardust that has become so associated with this fixture. With reason, Madrid packed the mid-field and prevailed.

  • Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane deployed his team with a dense mid-field, Isco tucking in to populate the axis of the field.

  • At times, Zidane's mid-field pressed high in unison, somewhat flummoxing Barcelona, whose sole plan, time and again, was to pass the ball to Lionel Messi.

Perhaps, in the end after all the fruitless accelerations, dribbles and dummies, Vinicius Jr got the right reward. German midfielder Toni Kroos slid an inch-perfect pass in the 71st minute down the inside-left channel, in behind Barcelona substitute Martin Braithwaite, a Ligue 1 and Middlesborough reject, and that was all Vinicius, 19, needed to become the youngest goal scorer in the El Clasico's history. His attempt deflected off a sliding Gerard Pique past Marc ter Stegen into the net.

It was a snapshot of Vinicius' meteoric rise in the game. At the age of 16, Vinicius became one of the most valuable teenagers in the world with a $50 million move to Real Madrid in 2017. A six-year-old Vinicius enrolled in Flamengo's football school in Sao Goncalo, a forgotten and destitute municipality area across Rio de Janeiro's bay where his family lived. His talent, hard work and persistence, including a three-hour commute to Flamengo's training ground, led him on a whirlwind journey to the club's first team and then on to the global stage in the Spanish capital when Madrid snapped him up after just a few outings as an impact substitute for the Rio club.

LaLiga Baby Galactico Vinicius Junior shines in El Clasico to revive Real Madrids title aspirations

Real Madrid's Vinicius Jr became the youngest person to score a goal in El Clasico on Sunday, breaking Lionel Messi's record. AP

It was a gamble by Madrid in the complex race for the best human capital in the game, but one they, at least for now, won't regret. Vinicius remains a raw talent. His 90 minutes against Barcelona were pocked with heavy touches, bad decision-making and inaccurate finishes. His match was often exasperating, demonstrating speed and energy on the wing without, however, producing a final pass or finish.

On the left, Vinicius was isolated as the mid-fielders offered little support and striker Karim Benzema often drifted wide to see more of the ball. As a consequence, Madrid, played without much direction or purpose, something Manchester City had exposed last Wednesday. The Brazilian's isolation and subsequent frustration was telling of a match that delivered too little. Where was the fluent Barcelona of yesteryear? Where was the galactic Madrid?

This Clasico was denuded of the vibrant football and stardust that has become so associated with this fixture. With reason, Madrid packed the mid-field and prevailed.

These were two clubs at a critical point: Barcelona's season has been rattled by an institutional crisis and the introduction of new coach Quique Setien, who invoked the spirit of the club's modern godfather, Johan Cruyff, when he arrived, but has so far failed to deliver the style his new club demands. In the Spanish capital, the specter of a new trophy-less season loomed again heavily over the Bernabeu after a striking downturn in form in recent weeks.

Last year, Madrid were knocked out of contention in the space of eight days in the Spanish league, the Spanish Cup and the Champions League, a scenario that became possible again after Madrid's dramatic 1-2 defeat in midweek against Manchester City. In the El Clasico, Madrid's season and Zinedine Zidane's status were on the line.

LaLiga Baby Galactico Vinicius Junior shines in El Clasico to revive Real Madrids title aspirations

Barcelona fell one point behind Real Madrid in La Liga title race after the defeat. AP

The French coach, King Midas in the Spanish capital for having never not won the European Cup, deployed his team with a dense mid-field, Isco tucking in to populate the axis of the field. At times, Zidane's mid-field pressed high in unison, somewhat flummoxing Barcelona, whose sole plan, time and again, was to pass the ball to Lionel Messi.

That tactic didn't work. The diminutive Argentine was peripheral and, like his teammates, profligate in front of goal. The visiting team were subdued, never proposing a constructive and coherent idea of how they wanted to play football. Midway through the second half, they relinquished their fragile control of the match when both Isco, twice, and Benzema were denied.

Madrid pressed with Vinicius' moment finally arriving. Kroos held the ball and signaled for the young number 25 to make the run. The Brazilian did, opened up his body and side-footed his finish. The virtuoso's goal was electrifying and shifted control of the game and, perhaps, the league, back to Zidane's team. From a tight angle substitute Mariano Diaz sealed Madrid's 2-0 win with an injury-time strike.

All night, Vinicius had been burdened as the outlet of an ageing team, whose credentials had been questioned after two consecutive defeats. In many ways, Vinicius is still a 'baby Galactico' finding his way in a depleted frontline in the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era, but his maturity, responsibility and precision finish show that he is taking it all into his stride; accelerating, as he has always done, when he needs to.

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