Vinicius Junior during the Copa del Rey final between Real Madrid and Osasuna at La Cartuja, Seville, May 2023

Beware Man City; Vini Jr’s nutmegs are pulling defenders pants down

Michael Lee •

While most of the British Isles shivers and reaches for an umbrella, Spain has suffered an uncomfortably warm spring thus far – but nothing to match the heat of Vinicius Jr right now.

The Real Madrid attacker has established himself as one of Europe’s best players and the obvious successor to Neymar in the Brazil national side.

Quick, trickier than The Times crossword and possessing the ballsiness of a Christian entering the lion enclosure at Madrid Zoo, Vinicius regularly makes his opponents beg for mercy with his superlative performances.

And the Copa del Rey final against Osasuna was no exception.

Hosted at La Cartuja in Seville, beloved by the Spanish FA despite offering all the atmosphere of a Royal tea party, Madrid looked for their first piece of silverware this season and the perfect pick-me-up before welcoming Manchester City to the Bernabeu on Tuesday.

Whilst Rodyrgo stole the headlines with a brace in Madrid’s 2-1 success, Vinicius was at his impish best during the keenly-contested match and regularly shredded his opponents with the zeal of a government minister destroying incriminating documents.

On one occasion, Jon Moncayola walked unsuspectingly into Vini’s trap in an attempt to intercept a pass. Big mistake. Arcing his body to deny Moncayola access to the ball, the Brazil international allowed it to roll through the legs of both conquer and the conquered before haring downfield.

The Manchester City players, perhaps taking in some late-night Spanish football after their own victory over Leeds, will have quivered upon seeing it. Good luck lads.

“I think that in Europe there is more respect for Vinicius, other players and perhaps for Madrid,” team-mate Thibaut Courtois said in a recent interview.

“Against Chelsea and Liverpool there were no problems and they are difficult rivals, because in England they also play hard. It is not something that you should ask me, you should ask your rivals.

“But that never happens, that’s the problem. Then the questions are asked as a joke and they like how people get into Vinicius’s head.

“I hope that Vini can respond on the field as he has been doing. There is a world of difference between the boy who arrived five years ago and the one now. I am very happy to see him like this and I hope he can continue to score and assist. This is how he will silence people.

Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti has also spoken about Vinicius being targeted by rivals on and off the pitch, with racist abuse continuing to be aimed in his direction on an alarmingly regular basis:

“On the one hand there is what happens on the pitch and on the other, off it,” Ancelotti said. “Off it, it is bad for society, to still have racism… a modern society cannot be like that.

“And on the pitch, the truth is that the players kick him lots, it’s obvious. Maradona or Pele were also kicked a lot, unfortunately. Our luck is that Vinicius has a strong physique and is capable of enduring [those challenges].”

While the odd kick is to be expected when running rings around rivals, Ancelotti has once again called on match officials to protect players that can see a line of acceptable behaviour crossed at times.

The Italian added on the need to protect players of Vinicius’ ilk: “We have that concern, it’s quite normal. He tries to beat his man one-on-one a lot, he dribbles… and the only way to preserve this type of player, not just Vinicius, but all players, is justice.

“Only that can prevent something bad from happening.”

Considering how Vinicius is playing, Pep Guardiola and his City players must be considering all kinds of methods to stop Madrid’s starboy from running riot in their Champions League semi.

By Michael Lee

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