Barcelona: Brazilian teenager Vinicius Junior has become the immediate beneficiary of Real Madrid’s coaching change.
The 18-year-old forward impressed in his first start for Madrid on Wednesday, helping set up two goals in a 4-0 win at Melilla in the debut of interim coach Santiago Solari.
The win came two days after Solari was promoted from Madrid’s reserve team to replace Julen Lopetegui, who was fired following a horrible run of results that ended with a 5-1 loss at Barcelona.
The schedule provided Solari, a former Madrid midfielder, with an easy first game in charge, a visit to third-division club Melilla in the round-of-32 of the Copa del Rey. It was the ideal scenario to feature Vinicius, who had spent most of his first season in Madrid playing under Solari in the B team.
Lopetegui had apparently considered Vinicius a raw talent that needed to be nurtured along slowly.
But at Melilla in Spain’s small enclave in Africa, Vinicius was Madrid’s leader up front, displaying speed, nifty dribbling, and an understanding with his veteran teammates.
Vinicius used a skilful pass with the outside edge of his right boot for Marco Asensio to score Madrid’s second goal. He also helped out on the next one with a pass off the back of this right heel. The ball was eventually scrambled in by Alvaro Odriozola.
Vinicius added a powerful shot that hit the crossbar, as well as an audacious “rabona” pass, a tricky move in which the player kicks the ball from behind his other leg.
“He played the 90 minutes. He is a great young talent, 18 years old, who has just arrived,” Solari said of Vinicius. “He’s living in a new country, adapting to another style of soccer and to a new world at Real Madrid.
“He has a lot to learn, and yet his talent is evident, you can see it in everything he does. He will mature on his own, although he clearly needs minutes.”
Vinicius joined the European champions in the off-season after they paid the considerable figure of 45 million euros to Brazilian club Flamengo last year.
After Madrid agreed to sell Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus, many fans expected Lopetegui to play Vinicius more. Instead, he made two appearances for a total of 12 minutes under Lopetegui, despite the poor form of forwards Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale.
Solari has been put in charge on a temporary basis while the club looks for a new coach. Local media, however, has not ruled out the option that the Argentine could stay on if good results keep coming.
While Melilla, a team from a tiny Spanish enclave on the North African coast, were a pushover, Madrid face a much tougher test when they host Valladolid in the Spanish league on Saturday.
Valladolid have only lost twice this season, are on a six-match unbeaten streak, and arrive at the Bernabeu in sixth place.
Lopetegui left Madrid in ninth place, seven points behind leaders Barcelona, and without a win in five straight games.
Given Bale’s dismal game at Barcelona last weekend, Solari could again entrust Vinicius to spark his attack.