Real Madrid will welcome Vinícius Júnior back from injury with open arms. The 18-year-old, who excelled earlier in the season under the guidance of Santiago Solari, has been absent for the last month with an ankle problem.
There is talk he could make a sooner than expected recovery. The Brazilian forward may even be ready this weekend – although Real Madrid insist they will not rush him back – to play against Athletic Club in LaLiga.
This is good news for Los Blancos coach Zinedine Zidane, who will no doubt be keen to bed Vinícius into his side, to integrate him in the system ahead of next season. Though he is just 18, still inexperienced and with room to develop, Vinícius has proven himself capable of playing a big role at one of the world's biggest clubs.
Before his injury, the youngster was playing with a swagger, contributing in attack far more than might have been expected for a player of his youth. On occasion, he was the focal point of Real Madrid’s attacks, the man his team-mates looked towards to produce something in tight games.
Zidane, who began his second spell as the club’s first team coach only last month, will have taken notice of this. Though Real Madrid are known for bringing in Galácticos, the intention now seems to be to ensure Vinícius’ potential is fulfilled.
“I know that Zidane gives chances to everyone," Vinicius said in a recent interview with Esporte Espetacular. “We are now preparing for next season. I am calm because I know that when I have recovered my chance will appear.”
And Vinícius will be confident of taking that chance. That is exactly what he did earlier this season when Marco Asensio and Gareth Bale were injured, and Real Madrid needed someone to step up. The teenager took on the responsibility, putting on a string of impressive performances, several of which came in important games.
His display in February’s 1-1 draw against FC Barcelona in the Copa del Rey was one such game. Vinícius tormented the Blaugrana’s back four throughout and earned high praise from Solari in the aftermath.
“I was not surprised as I know him since he arrived,” the then Los Blancos coach said. “I know how he plays football. But that a kid of 18 years old plays in this way does not often happen. He deserves a lot of praise.”
Vinícius, as many expected, kicked on from an impressive International Champions Cup with Real Madrid last summer. He was a standout performer in the tournament – which no doubt provided him with a significant confidence boost – particularly in his side’s win over AS Roma.
Real Madrid will hope that the wonderkid is fully fit and available for this summer’s edition of the ICC, too, with tough games against FC Bayern, Arsenal and Atlético de Madrid to be played.
There is, of course, still room for improvement in Vinícius’ game. An electric left winger, pacey and skilful, he has proven himself a menace to opposition defenders in La Liga this season.
Only four players in the division can better his average of 3.62 successful take-ons per 90 minutes. And his impressive average of 9.43 touches in the opposition box per 90 is by some margin the highest in La Liga.
Zidane will perhaps hope to make Vinícius a more potent goal scorer. The youngster has an xG per 90 of 0.43 but has found the net just four times in all competitions this season. His conversion rate should improve, though, with the benefit of more time and experience on the field.
For now, Vinícius will be eased back from injury, eased back into the first team. Much will be expected of the precocious talent next season, but he has shown himself more than capable of living up to expectation.