Chukwueze outshone Vinicius Jr, but will only become elite by learning from the Brazilian

Samuel Chukwueze (IMAGO/Omar Arnau/AgenciaLOF)

Chukwueze outshone Vinicius Jr, but will only become elite by learning from the Brazilian

Solace Chukwu 12:00 - 12.02.2022

Explosive Chukwueze outshone Vinicius Jr, but will only become elite by learning from the Brazilian

The Nigeria international won the 'dribbles' battle against his Brazilian counterpart, but lost the war for decisive impact.

From a tactical perspective, Real Madrid’s trip to Estadio de la Ceramica on Saturday afternoon was entirely shaped by the “battle” unfolding on Villarreal’s right side.

At one end, Brazilian Vinicius pitted his wits against Juan Foyth, while at the other Samuel Chukwueze was up against Marcelo. However, it was less about these duels necessarily, and more about which of the attackers would get the upper hand and upstage the other.

There are, unsurprisingly, broad similarities between Vinicius and Chukwueze: both were prodigious young talents with great speed and dribbling ability, and both have, in the recent past, been challenged by their managers to take the next step in their development.

It is a call that Vinicius has responded to with aplomb this season. Already in 2021/22, the 21-year-old has surpassed his league goal and assist tallies from last season: 12 goals and five assists in 21 appearances, as opposed to three and three in 35 matches.

Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior has been key to their success so far this season

Manager Carlo Ancelotti’s input has been invaluable, if not particularly ground-breaking: by constantly reminding the wonderkid not to overthink in the final third, Carletto has elicited decisive impact from a player who was once considered all flash.

Chukwueze has not quite responded to that imperative in the same way, by contrast. Sure, getting injured in last season’s Europa League semi-finals and missing the first 10 weeks of this ground cannot have helped. However, it is important to note that, even before tearing his hamstring and going off against Arsenal, manager Unai Emery’s carrot-and-stick coaxing of the 22-year-old had shown little sign of turning him into a more impactful player in the final third.

Since his return, the Nigeria international has scored twice and assisted one other, but largely the pattern of his performances have held true: there have been flashes of devilry to catch the eye, but ultimately too little of it has translated to proper menace.

Chukwueze has scored 2 goals this season for Villarreal

It was much the same on Saturday afternoon.

Chukwueze tore into poor Marcelo, in at left-back due to the unavailability of Ferland Mendy, tormenting the senior citizen time and again and completing six of nine attempted dribbles according to Opta. It was a performance which has been hailed as impressive, and in the eyes of many he will have been considered the better performer than Vinicius (two dribbles from five attempted), on whom Foyth did a superb marking job one-on-one.

However, even within what can be termed a strong display, all of the old frustrations were manifest.

For all the jinking and slaloming, Chukwueze did far less to try to alter the goalless result.

He took just the one shot, which sailed well off target, and did not set up a single shot or chance for his team. By contrast, Vinicius may have been unable to assert himself on Foyth, but he took four shots, set up three more for his team, and created one clear-cut chance, which was missed by Gareth Bale.

Think about it: beyond his ability to make Marcelo look as long in the tooth as he is – and that is something we already knew he was capable of two seasons ago – what really did we learn about Chukwueze from Saturday?

Samuel Chukwueze, Sergio Ramos, Casemiro and Toni Kroos

Take a minute to ponder it over.


For all that he set the pulse racing whenever he had the ball at his feet, we came no closer to seeing a player who can potentially decide matches, and potentially even a league campaign. Too often, his good work ended with an underhit pass or an overhit cross. Dribbles are lovely to watch, and capture the imagination, but they are a means, not an end.

There is a tier above ‘exciting’, and if the Nigeria international is to become a truly elite footballer, he will have to reach it. On the other side of halfway, his Brazilian counterpart gave a demonstration; one can only hope Chukwueze was paying attention.