MADRID (AP) Brazilian teenage sensation Vinicius Junior arrived in Spain giving Real Madrid fans hope he could be the future star who would help fill the void left by Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure.
Fans were anxious to see if his quick moves and nifty dribbles would give the team the spark that vanished after Ronaldo left, especially since the club made no major signings to try to make up for Ronaldo’s absence.
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But the 18-year-old forward, who many compare to former Brazil and Madrid player Robinho, has not played any minutes with the main squad and this weekend was sent down to play with Madrid’s “B” team in the third division.
He started in the 2-0 win against Las Palmas Atletico on Sunday, and images of him clearing a couple of defenders with a beautiful nutmeg quickly spread online, adding to the frustration of fans who keep wanting to see him tested among the best in the top flight.
Julen Lopetegui’s decision to leave Vinicius Junior sidelined has already put the newly arrived coach in an uncomfortable position, with fans and local media questioning him. The only reason the coach is not hearing more from critics is because Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema have been successfully helping the main squad in attack. Benzema scored twice and Bale once in the team’s 4-1 win at Girona on Sunday.
Madrid spent about 45 million euros ($52 million) for the promising Brazilian teenager last year even though he had played mostly with the youth squads of Brazilian club Flamengo. Madrid opted to bring the player after he turned 18 instead of keeping him in Brazil to develop longer.
MODRIC BENCHED AGAIN?
Lopetegui also has been questioned over his handling of Luka Modric, who was voted the World Cup’s best player as Croatia reached the final in Russia.
The talented midfielder was benched for the third straight time this season on Sunday, entering the match as a substitute late in the game. Lopetegui has opted to use Francisco “Isco” Alarcon and Marco Asensio in the midfield, players who have greater attacking power.
Modric reported to the squad later than the rest of the players because of the World Cup, and Lopetegui said that has played a part in why he hasn’t started. But the coached noted Sunday that “there are alternatives” for the starting lineup, and “that’s good for the team.”
Many in Spain have linked Modric’s lack of playing time to his reported negotiations with Inter Milan in the offseason.
Lopetegui has also caused controversy by keeping Keylor Navas in goal despite the high-profile signing of Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois from Chelsea.
Espanyol made a bold move in the offseason to pay the 10-million-euro buyout clause for striker Borja Iglesias.
The 25-year-old Iglesias belonged to Celta Vigo but was on loan with second-division club Zaragoza, which came close to gaining promotion to the top flight thanks in great part to his goals.
The move started to pay off Sunday when Iglesias scored his first goal of the season, helping the hosts earn a 2-0 win over Valencia.
Along with Iglesias, Espanyol also brought new coach Joan Francesc Ferrer, better known as “Rubi,” who has been trying to revamp the team after a disappointing season a year ago.
“We are getting used to a new way of playing and we are happy with it,” Iglesias said. “There are no limits to what this team can achieve.”
QUOTE OF THE WEEKEND
Valencia defender Jose Luis Gaya was blunt about his team’s performance in the 2-0 loss at Espanyol, a result that left the team winless after two rounds.
“Our second-half performance was not worthy of this team. It should come as an alert,” Gaya said. “We can’t convey this image. They trounced us after their goal.”
Valencia entered the season with high hopes after improving a squad that finished fourth in the league a year ago, signing several players in the offseason.
The team had opened with a draw against Atletico Madrid at home.
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