MADRID: Real Madrid forward Vinicius Jr delivered one of the best performances of his young yet exhilarating career in Wednesday’s Copa del Rey semi-final second leg against Barcelona, thrilling the Santiago Bernabeu and toying with the opposition defence.
There was just one problem: the Brazilian missed a slew of chances and so did his teammates as Barcelona somehow ran out 3-0 winners, reaching a sixth consecutive Copa del Rey final and sending Madrid out.
Spain’s biggest clubs meet again on Saturday in a La Liga game which could effectively bury Madrid’s chances of chasing down runaway leaders Barca, who hold a nine-point gap over third-placed Real.
Atletico Madrid, who are second in the standings and seven points off the top, visit Real Sociedad on Sunday.
If Santiago Solari’s side are to beat Barca for the first time in the league since 2016 and haul themselves back into contention, they will need 18-year-old Vinicius to improve on the one, crucial, area of his game that is still lacking.
Despite resurrecting Madrid’s chaotic campaign since bursting into the first team at the end of October, Vinicius has only scored three goals for Real in 24 appearances in all competitions, in which he has had 75 shots.
Against Barca, he had six attempts, but only managed to test goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen once. His most glaring misses came in the first half, when he caught sight of goal from inside the area twice but sent the ball over the bar both times.
By contrast, Barca forward Luis Suarez scored with both of his attempts, while the Uruguayan’s towering presence forced Raphael Varane to push the ball into the net for an own goal.
Former Real coach and player Jorge Valdano has compared Vinicius to a teenage Raul, who also burst into the first team as a youngster and went on to become the club’s all-time top goalscorer before Cristiano Ronaldo took his place.
“When Raul was at the same stage as Vinicius and starting out, we had him correcting his finishing like a madman. You have to practice on scoring goals and Vinicius will do that and will improve, he just needs to slow down a bit and lift his head,” Valdano said.
Real coach Solari seemed relaxed about the forward’s profligacy, saying, “It’s something he will improve over time, with maturity and by training, and above all, practising through playing matches.”
The Argentine, who has overseen a steady improvement in results since succeeding Julen Lopetegui, also hopes his side will be able to show a cooler head in front of goal in the league fixture than they did in the Cup tie.
“We hope that some of the shots we missed today go in on Saturday,” he added.