Real Madrid’s transition season last year wasn’t the smoothest one. The club couldn’t win the La Liga and went out of the UEFA Champions League in the Round of 16 at the hands of Ajax. Times under Santiago Solari weren’t the best. But players like Vinicius became the charm of the season.

The club’s best players did underperform, as Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane left. But it was not a surprise. There was to be a transition after three years of unthinkable success. It was supposed to be a season in which young stars would emerge. And emerge they did.

While Ernesto Valverde’s emergence has come this season and Rodrygo Goes came to the Bernabeu this summer, Vinicius was always there. The young Brazilian was a constant and was the source of inspiration. This season hasn’t been his most active, as Zidane hasn’t been using him much.

Vinicius has made only five starts in the La Liga this season. In total, he has made 12 appearances, scoring once and racking up one assist too. That is in stark contrast to last season, when the Brazilian made 31 appearances in all competitions. He got three goals and had a tally of seven assists as well.

Those were impressive numbers and it was the start of a new era. This season, he hasn’t been playing as much as he should. It has led to questions about his quality and whether he should get a loan move away from Real.

But the recent performance against Espanyol said a lot about the 19-year-old. He didn’t score or assist, but it gave the impression of his old self.

Vinicius started on the left-wing, with Karim Benzema upfront and Rodrygo on the right. Vinicius attempted seven dribbles in total, completing all of them. Not just the 100 percent dribbling accuracy, the fact that he had a passing accuracy of 82 percent said a lot too. He took three shots on target as well.

He came up with as many as four key passes, only less than Benzema himself. The winger was neither dribbled past even once nor did he lose the ball even once. It has a rather spotless performance that was deserving of a goal or an assist. He came up with a performance that lifted fans off their seats. In that sense, he did his job very well.

It was arguably a better performance than his Osasuna one- in which he got his only goal of the campaign. After the Espanyol game, Zidane was full of praise for Vinicius. The French told reporters (via AS):

“The important thing isn’t him scoring goals, maybe it is for him, but what counts for me is the work he does. He did really well. The system for today’s match was three up front, with Vini and Rodrygo giving us pace. Both of them did really well.”

Even against Osasuna, Vinicius came up with a good show. He completed five dribbles out of the 11 he attempted. He won a single tackle, but had a passing accuracy of 66 percent only. Those are mixed numbers but the goal had an impact on how one can view that performance.

It shows that there is very much a player in there. But Real’s problem isn’t with Vinicius. It is with the depth they have in that spot. Eden Hazard is a regular- something that might not go down well with the youngster. He would certainly want first-team football at this age. But getting that in every game would be tough.

But as the season wears on, Real would progress forward in the Champions League and cups (hopefully). All Vinicius has to do is hope for as much football as he got last season. His future is still at the Santiago Bernabeu.

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Kaustubh Pandey