Real Madrid coach Santi Solari said he wasn’t surprised by the continued run of form by teenager Vinicius Jr., but admitted it “does not happen often” that a teenager performs so well.
Vinicius, 18, was a constant menace down the left in Real’s Copa del Rey first-leg 1-1 draw with Barcelona, especially in the first half, with his perfectly-weighted cross for Karim Benzema at the back post to set up Lucas Vazquez for Real’s lone goal in the sixth minute.
The former Flamengo player also scored his first league goal for Real against Alaves on Sunday and is the leading assist-getter in the Copa del Rey during this season’s competition.
“I was not surprised as I know him since he arrived,” Solari said at his postmatch news conference. “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, as do his teammates who have taken him on board and helped him.”
Despite the Brazilian’s display, Barca dominated the second half and his countryman Malcom’s leveller was equally merited. The game opened up late on, especially after Lionel Messi entered as a substitute, with another replacement Gareth Bale having the clearest of the opportunities for a late winner.
Solari said he felt his side had created the better chances and predicted a lot more drama in the second leg at the Bernabeu on Feb 27.
“It is very difficult to speak about justice in football,” Solari said. “We had chances in the first half, with Vinicius Junior, and Bale and Toni Kroos late in the second half. But it was a very nice game of football, swung back and forward.
“The tie is still very open. Both teams have lots of quality and many things can happen in a short time in these type of games.”
Solari did not want to be drawn on what had changed since Madrid were beaten 5-1 at the Camp Nou in predecessor Julen Lopetegui’s last game as coach, but did say he was happy overall with their performance this time.
“Comparisons are never fruitful,” said the Argentine. “Today’s game was confirmation that this team are moving very seriously. We always want to win, and we had chances to score a second goal. So we are happy with what we did today.”
Solari also came to the defence of Marcelo, 30, who had a difficult night against Barca’s under-used winger Malcom.
“Marcelo is our vice captain, and puts Madrid above everything,” Solari said. “And we work hard so that all our players are at their best.”
A downer on the night for Madrid was another suspected muscle injury for young midfielder Marcos Llorente, who limped off with an hour gone.