That was when substitute Vinicius scored, opening his account for the season. That means that having played just 24 minutes of the 2021/22 campaign he’s already a third of the way to matching his best-ever La Liga goal tally.
This season has been marked as a make-or-break one for the forward as he looks to establish himself in the Madrid starting lineup under a fourth coach in three years, but it could also be decisive for new coach Carlo Ancelotti.
Much like throughout his career, the Italian stuck to experienced, proven veterans in his squad in Vitoria. A front-line of Eden Hazard, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale caught the imagination of headline writers, but left Vinicius with an uncertain role.
Such a high-profile trident certainly has appeal, but also amasses 95 years of age between them. Meanwhile, the likes of Vinicius, nine years younger than the youngest of the starting trio, will have to prove themselves from the bench. Doing just that, and getting the confidence boost that comes with it, will have worked wonders for the youngster even as early as matchday one.
Ancelotti will know that even if his long-term future lies elsewhere, his legacy from this second stint could be defined by how he develops Vinicius’ talents. There can be no denying his potential, but he is still yet to kick on.
In 2020/21, the Brazilian boasted an xG of 6.82, but scored only three goals. That reflects his pattern in La Liga ever since joining the club, where his xG (14.97) is more than double the number of goals he has actually scored (seven).
In the past, Vinicius has spoken about his struggles. “I do extra work at the end of every training session; [Zinedine] Zidane pulls me to one side to work on my finishing, and the other players also give me pointers and advice,” he told O Globo in 2019.
It was no surprise to hear Ancelotti discussing the issue after the win over Alaves, explaining how he has sought to exploit the talents of the attacker. “I think Vinicius has a lot of quality in one-on-ones,” he said. “I’ve told him that to score goals he has to take one or two touches, it’s difficult to score with four or five touches. He’s a very young player, he’s going to improve.”
Such advice is already paying off. Opportunities to start for Vinicius are bound to come, particularly given Bale and Hazard’s injury records, but should he continue to make progress, those chances will come sooner than Carletto may have anticipated.
If Ancelotti can get the Brazilian firing on all cylinders, Madrid may just have the long-term goalscorer they’ve been searching for without having to strike a deal with any French outfit.