Vinicius Junior comes of age
Jürgen Klopp was in no wrong for having scepticisms the squad he had at his disposal did not have enough to counteract the quality and ability of Zinedine Zidane’s, or challenge it to commendable extents. While he certainly acknowledged Los Blancos’ luck with injuries and illness has been far more awful than Liverpool’s this term, the German, unlike most Kopites or neutrals, feared.
Perhaps one could call it normal a manager of his calibre did, considering he understood the standards of the side he was set to lock horns with and why it’s a giant even in 2021. That said, preparing his team for such a high-profile fixture was always going to be an arduous task. Nonetheless, what he most likely feared was the irresistible and potent quality the likes of Luka Modrić and Toni Kroos have shown to still possess at this late stage of their careers, rather than the aptitudes of a player like Vinícius Júnior in right contexts.
Thus, he struggled, as the Brazilian made a mockery of his defence on a night few expected it to be him to perform, with the help of Karim Benzema, Ferland Mendy and obviously the mentioned Kroos. Even before he broke the deadlock on the 27th minute, you could already predict it was his blistering runs that were going to make him the hosts’ most threatening player, for how they troubled a high defensive line lacking organisation and cohesiveness.
Vini found it too simple for him to make arrivals in the final third with the ball, where he continuously imposed danger supported by Mendy. He had to do it a couple of more times for the visitors to realise it, and even once they did they reacted poorly, applying pressure on him as soon as he received the ball as if he didn’t have a plethora of passing options or could bypass the press with his ability. Kroos noticed all the errors they were committing and didn’t miss out on the opportunity to add salt to their wounds, making a long ball from deep in his half that beat everyone in the air and precisely found the young Brazilian, who controlled it with his chest and shot a half volley that beat Alisson.
It was poetry in motion, a bit like all the duels Trent Alexander-Arnold lost against him. The goal he scored to complete his brace was a confirmation that he was super high on confidence, as he positioned him exactly where he should have to meet Modrić’s ball and place it at the back of the net. I watched Rodrygo score a Champions League hat-trick in only his second appearance in the competition and Marco Asensio win games by himself in the early days of his career here, but this has to be right up there with the best performances by a young Real Madrid player in the knockout stages of the competition. Sensational in every sense of the word.