Vinicius Junior: Real Madrid’s last man standing
After an injury to Thibaut Courtois, Vinicius Junior is the only player to have started every game for Real Madrid this season
To say that Real Madrid have a busy October would be an understatement. Sunday’s disappointing draw at home to Osasuna, was the first of nine matches in a month, a run which includes fixtures in four successive midweeks, with Champions League trips to Poland and Germany to face Shakhtar Donetsk – of Ukraine – and RB Leipzig respectively.
Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti has already spoken about his willingness to use his squad and has made plenty of changes from one match to the next this term as his team juggles playing according to a condensed fixture schedule because of the mid-season World Cup.
Dani Carvajal has been first choice at right-back but Lucas Vázquez has come in to start in three of Los Blancos’ 10 competitive games so far. On the other side, Ferland Mendy has started eight times but has also been left on the bench twice.
Eder Militão and David Alaba appear to be Ancelotti’s preferred centre-back pairing, yet summer signing Antonio Rüdiger has started three times in LaLiga and once in the Champions League, with Nacho also making a couple of appearances in the first XI.
In midfield, Luka Modric (37) and Toni Kroos (32) have seen their game time managed, with both playing less than 70% of the minutes Real Madrid have played in all competitions this season. Even summer signing Aurélien Tchouaméni, at the other end of his career at 22, has played little more than that figure, while fellow youngster Eduardo Camavinga has been trusted to start on four occasions and had plenty of game time off the bench, easing the workload on his older teammates.
In Ancelotti’s three-man forward line, Rodrygo has proved an able deputy for both Fede Valverde, who has played the third highest number of minutes in the squad this term, and Karim Benzema, who started the first five games of the campaign before picking up an injury in the sixth against Celtic in the Champions League. The Frenchman is now back to lead the attack.
But it is on the left side of the attack where we find Real Madrid’s last man standing – Vinicius Junior. After a back injury forced goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois out of the weekend game against Osasuna, the Brazilian winger is now the only player to have started every game for Real Madrid this season.
On top of that, he has lasted until at least the 80th-minute mark in each one, his withdrawal from that clash at Celtic Park with 10 minutes left to play the earliest he has left the field. In total, Vinicius has played 96.2% of all possible minutes so far this season, ahead of David Alaba (89.3%) and Valverde (82%).
And not only has the Brazilian been an ever-present, he has also been one of the stand-out performers in Real Madrid’s fine start to the new campaign. The winger’s vastly improved output from last season has continued into this one – since the beginning of 2021-22, Vinicius has scored 28 goals in 62 games in all competitions, compared to 15 in 82 appearances (admittedly not all starts) between September 2018 and May 2021.
Five goals in seven LaLiga matches and six in all competitions have made Vinicius undroppable, amidst heavy rotation elsewhere in the team. The more he plays, the more he produces. Will he be able to keep it up during a hectic run of fixtures? Ancelotti has to manage his squad carefully but will have to think twice about leaving out his most in-form player.