REAL MADRID

Real Madrid: Vinicius shines in Copa, pushes for derby place

Vinicius, who netted a fine strike on Wednesday, has been involved in more goals in the last two Copas del Rey than any other Real Madrid player.

Real Madrid: Vinicius shines in Copa, pushes for derby place

When Vinicius Júnior picked up the ball in the 72nd minute at La Romareda and ran in on Real Zaragoza goalkeeper Álvaro Ratón, many will have been at the ready with a quip or two about the Brazilian's errant finishing. However, it's fair to say he nipped those wisecracks firmly in the bud.

Instead of stumbling nervously, firing straight at Ratón or shooting wide altogether, he steadied himself and dinked in a sublime, outside-of-the-boot strike.

It was a picturebook goal that served to underline that Vinicius is indeed a player with plenty of end product in there, particularly in the Copa del Rey. In the last two seasons of the competition, the 19-year-old has scored or assisted more goals (nine) than any of his club-mates. The Copa certainly seems to be his cup of tea.

Zaragoza goal shows Vinicius' training-ground sessions with Zidane reaping dividends

It was in the Copa del Rey that Vinicius started to make his mark at Real Madrid, scoring once and supplying three assists in last term's last-32 tie with Melilla, before also shining against Leganés (a goal and an assist) and Girona (three assists) in the following two rounds. This season, his good form on the Copa stage has continued. Though he drew a blank against Unionistas Salamanca in the last 16, his goal in Zaragoza is arguably his best for Los Blancos so far.

The strike offered ample evidence of the hours he has devoted to refining his aim in front of goal. He has worked intensively with head coach Zinedine Zidane, who may not have been a born finisher as a player but is certainly a figure who knows all about putting the ball exactly where he wants.

Having put in session after session of finishing practice, Vinicius is learning to add that necessary touch of sang froid in the penalty box. Asked by Real Madrid TV what the key to his goal was on Wednesday, he said simply: "Keeping cool".

Vinicius stakes claim for Madrid derby place

By adding greater cutting edge to the attacking verve he was already showing, Vinicius has done his first-team prospects no harm at all as we head into the business end of the season - particularly with fellow forwards Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard currently absent.

"This goal will stand him in good stead," Zidane said after Madrid's 4-0 win over Zaragoza. Though Vinicius was not included in the travelling party that went to Real Valladolid on Sunday, one of his chief competitors for a place, Rodrygo Goes, was unable to get back to goal-scoring ways at the Estadio José Zorrilla. With the Madrid derby up next on Saturday, Vinicius is pushing hard for inclusion.