Vinicius Junior is Real Madrid's transformative superstar – with a new twist

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At the end of a stunning 2-2 draw against Bayern Munich on Tuesday evening, Real Madrid's press officer moved quickly to find Vinicius Junior on the pitch and give him the training session.

With the Brazilian half-naked after exchanging shirts with Bayern substitute Brian Zaragoza, it looked as if the visitors did not want him to catch a cold. That's because Real Madrid can't afford anything like fear from their star player, who has just pulled his team out of the fire with two goals in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final.

He did so playing as a No. 9 and on a night when the 14-time European Cup/Champions League winner was up against Harry Kane, the striker their coach Carlo Ancelotti had unsuccessfully sought last summer.

Madrid's interest did not go beyond testing the waters for Kane, and the England captain ended up joining Bayern from Tottenham Hotspur. Instead, Ancelotti's side took in 33-year-old Joselu on loan, who had just been relegated to Espanyol. In an injury-plagued season, which has left him short of midfielders and strikers, the Italian has become an expert at survival.

In the first part, he created a new position for Jude Bellingham, another summer arrival, who scored 17 goals in 21 games before the Christmas break. In the second half, he helped Vinicius Junior reach new levels while gradually focusing his position, even turning him into the leader of Real Madrid's attacking line.

Vinicius Junior's first goal last night was the work of a pure striker, a clever run to make space at the back, a brilliant finish behind an approaching Manuel Neuer. The Brazilian ran to the corner flag in celebration, kissed the Madrid badge on his shirt, danced and extended his arms like Bellingham does after scoring, before returning to the pitch.

Vinicius Junior crouches down to Kroos after the opening goal (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)

There, he bowed down to Toni Kroos, around whom more than half of his teammates had gathered. Playing at his previous home, Kroos's through ball on goal was a thing of beauty. Although he downplayed it afterwards.

“Big credit to Vinny, he gave me the pass with his movement. As I know him, he always goes into space. The pass was not special,” Kroos said.

“We train a lot together and know each other well,” said Vinicius Junior, who became the fourth man in Champions League history to score in three successive semi-final appearances.

But Real Madrid started the match very poorly. Ancelotti was very angry.

In the 10th minute, he turned and extended four fingers towards his son and assistant coach Davide, complaining about the number of times his players had already lost the ball. Substitutes Eder Militao and Dani Ceballos stood from the bench to provide guidance and shouted encouragement towards the field of play.

That mood changed suddenly when, after about 15 minutes, Kroos and Vinicius Junior combined their simple but devastating move to score the opening goal. Kroos received the ball in midfield and immediately noticed what should happen next, pointing the way to his teammate. Vinicius Junior saw what he meant and executed it. It was out of the blue. Bayern fell into a trap, even though their coach Thomas Tuchel almost expected it.

“If you look at their goals or chances and rewind 10 seconds, you won't see them coming,” Tuchel said before the match.

In the second half, Bayern came back strong. Leroy Sane's powerful strike caused chaos. On the sidelines, Ancelotti scolded Vinicius Junior and Aurelien Chouamini. Four minutes later, as Kane prepared to take the penalty that put the home side 2-1 up and fellow international Bellingham tried to clear, Vinicius Junior had another quick encounter with Ancelotti.

As he has done so many times before, the Brazilian led the rebellion on the big stage.

Madrid didn't give up, and they never did. The team's fans, approaching the match as if it were a final, with 4,000 spectators in the outdoor stands at the Allianz Arena chanted, “Hasta el Final, vamos Real!” (“To the end, let's go to reality!”).

In the 83rd minute, when Vinicius Junior's clever feet found Rodrigo inside the penalty area, there was no doubt who would take the penalty kick after the latter's foul. Vinicius Junior scored from a penalty kick against Barcelona in El Clásico nine days ago and will bear the responsibility again. Lucas Vazquez recovered the ball and pushed away some Bayern players who were trying to disturb his teammate.

Vinicius Junior put it down carefully and wiped the sweat from his face with his shirt. The noise was almost deafening.

But Real Madrid's Brazilian talisman quietly slipped through the pressure. He scored again and again and went to the corner to celebrate. Objects fell from the stands around him as he capped the moment by pointing to the number 7 on his back – the same number Cristiano Ronaldo wore for a long time at Madrid.

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By sending that penalty kick past Neuer, he reached 32 goals (21 goals and 11 assists) for Madrid this season, one ahead of Bellingham.

According to data provider Opta, since the start of the 2021-22 season, he has been directly involved in more Champions League goals than any other player (31 in total; 16 goals and 15 assists).

This is Vinicius Junior, an all-rounder who has developed so much that he could also be the striker Ancelotti wanted last summer.

“I'm very happy that I was able to score two goals,” he said from the touchline after the match after being named man of the match. “Now it's time to have a magical night at home.”

It all summed up the advantage of Ancelotti, his crew and Vinicius Junior – having an idea to close the gap and developing it well to the point where the left winger could become the best player in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final while playing. sincere.

“He has now learned to move well without the ball, and to move in the opponents' defence,” Ancelotti said. “And then he is very cold in front of goal.”

(Top photo: Daniel Kobach/Getty Images)

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