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Using xGold to identify five similar players to Vinícius Jr – data analysis

Using xGold to identify five similar players to Vinícius Jr – data analysis

Five years ago, Vinicius Jr showed his talent to the world at only 16 years of age in Brazil, specifically at Flamengo, his youth football team since 2010, when he was only a 10-year-old. There he thrived through all the youth categories until being capped for the first time in his career. In his first experience in professional football back in 2017, he played around 36 matches, including 7 in CONMEBOL Sudamericana Cup, in which they arrived at the final and then lost 2-1 against Argentinian Independiente. Vinicius Jr took part in the final, being subbed in at the 72‘ minute. He scored 4 goals and 1 assist.

One season later, his talent totally exploded in Brazil. He played around 32 matches, and scored 10 goals and 3 assists, making his full debut at the CONMEBOL Libertadores Cup, being knocked out in the round of 16. Vinicius Jr demonstrated to the world his ability in small spaces, his change of speed and multiple skills that were from truly incredible to very bad ones that he had to work on, like decision-making and finishing. However, that was the most important season for Vinicius’ career, as he signed the biggest contract of his career. The one that attached his name to Real Madrid, making him the new signing of the greatest club in the history of football.

Things started to heat up in Madrid, Spain and all around the world, as Florentino Pérez paid up to 45 million euros for an 18-year-old player Brazilian, who for some football fans, didn’t show off anything special during his two first seasons as a professional footballer. Others wouldn’t believe he would do it in Europe because his physicality and the pressure were starting to get bigger and bigger for a 176cm, skilly and pacey winger from Sao Goncalo. Additionally, he arrived at Real Madrid in the reconstruction season after Cristiano Ronaldo’s sale to Juventus.

The 2018/19 campaign wasn’t his best. He played 31 matches, where 18 were in La Liga, in which he scored 2 goals and delivered 2 assists in his first appearances with ‘Los Blancos’. It was very low numbers for a player that came with such expectations. Jokes and hard criticism started from the press and the fans to Vinicius Jr as he was very unpredictable and tough to beat. but failed too much in his decision-making.

Nevertheless, his talent was undeniable, and two seasons later, at the end of the 2020/21 campaign, he started to develop more on his mental and technical attributes when it was time to deliver a big end product. The 2021/22 season and the start of the present have been a reminder that players can massively evolve within days, weeks or months. He has become one of the best players in the world, ended 8th in the 2022 Ballon d’Or, and won his first UEFA Champions League and second league title, being a vital part of Carlo Ancelotti’s system.

In this data analysis piece, we will use our exclusive xGold tool to identify five similar players to Real Madrid’s star, Vinicius Jr, using a U23 age filter and looking only for right-wingers and left-wingers in Brazil’s Serie A and Serie B. XGold is a custom-build tool that allows us to find players who perform in a similar manner from a data perspective to any player in the world. In order to visualise the data of our players for this analysis, we use statistics from Wyscout which will be run through Python in order to create pizza charts that then show a set of metrics we use to assess left-wingers. The data will also be converted into percentile rankings, with each player compared to fullbacks in their own leagues.

Firstly though, we will need to understand how Vinicius Jr has become an impressive and vital player in Real Madrid’s attacking system.

Vinicius Jr, 22 years old, Real Madrid and Spain

Using xGold to identify 5 similar players to Vinicius Jr

Pizza charts show us three aspects of a player’s input to the gam.: In the attacking and defensive phase, and in-possession terms that get a little more deeply about passes, if they’re progressive or dangerous ones that break lines. As you can see, Vinicius ranks exceptionally high in every one of the attacking and in-possession aspects. His direct style of play leaves him constantly in 1v1 situations or inside the box where he can finish build-ups, makes him in the 83rd percentile on Goal Contribution, as well as the 85th percentile in Expected Goal Contribution and Shots.

One of the biggest attributes and technical features that Vinicius Jr has in his game is his dribbling. He’s a confusing player with his fast footwork. He likes to do simple dribbles as cuts inside or outside, but as well some tricks of magic as a typical South-American winger, especially Brazilians. His dribbles are the one that ranks the highest amongst wingers from La Liga in the 92nd percentile. Meaning he goes frequently for a 1v1 duel.

Another impressive skill the 22-year-old has are his aggressive entries to the box, with progressive carries that cover long distances on the pitch. He ranks in the 85th percentile in this stat.

In possession, he makes a productive passing input to his team, ranking in the 74th percentile for passes try per 90 minutes, and sitting in the 64th percentile for accurate passes. This is a good position for an aggressive and individualistic winger like Vinicius Jr, who tends to receive the ball with space and carry it into the box.

However, he has grown into a more associative player. We can also watch that he’s usually being found when Real Madrid are in the attacking phase of the game, as he registers in the 71st percentile in received passes per 90. Two of the most important metrics inside passing terms are the dangerous and progressive ones. If a player ranks high on both, this means he looks to break lines and create forward passes. He ranks in the 78th and 64th respectively.

Defensively, Vinicius is not the most intense and defensive-minded player on the wing. Real Madrid doesn’t look to make him a high pressing machine monster, as they don’t try to apply this kind of system.

#1 Adson, 22 years old, RW, Corinthians and Brazil, 88% match

Using xGold to identify 5 similar players to Vinicius Jr

Corinthians’ 22-year-old Adson is the one that makes the top for most-similar player to Vinicius Jr in our xGold tool. The right-winger ranks in the low percentiles in terms of goal contribution and expected goal contribution (34th), as well as shots (40th), a little bit of what the Real Madrid star showed in the first steps of his career. However, Adson ranks very high in the dribbling aspect, with a 77th percentile that explains the Brazilian player has a very good technique to go constantly for a 1v1 duel. He also ranks in the median percentile (54th) of opposition penalty area entries, a thing he has to get far better.

In the passing feature, Adson is one absolutely incredible player. He basically ranks close to the top for each metric. He likes to get on the ball frequently (95th percentile for received passes), he does passes (95th percentile), most of them are accurate (86th percentile) and are also looking to break lines, assist or progress (79th percentile for progressive passes and 77th dangerous passes) through the thirds and different channels of the pitch. This just shows how big can be his input in the associative facet of the game.

Defensively, Adson also shows great stats and percentile positions as he usually wants to fight on a defensive duel to try and win the ball back (81st percentile), but he also ranks very high in the accuracy of them, as most of these defensive duels he ran into, he won them (90th percentile). Nevertheless, his input on the air is not the best as he’s not the tallest, listed at 171cm. He’s more of a little player that’s very slippery in small spaces. He ranks at the median of how many duels he tries per 90 (54th percentile) but he doesn’t win them often as he ranks in the 34th percentile. His positioning also ranks decently in the 68th percentile. Statistics like interceptions go into this metric.

xGold match to Vinicius Jr – 88%

#2 Gabriel Teixeira, 21 years old, RW, Gremio and Brazil, 87% match

Using xGold to identify five similar players to Vinícius Jr – data analysis

Gabriel Teixeira at 21 years of age, playing at Serie B’s Gremio, shows a better input in terms of the offensive phase of the game. As he creates many chances for his team to rank very high in goal contributions and expected goal contributions, respectively with the 71st and 86th percentile. He’s also a super-aggressive style of winger, being one of the players in the position who takes more shots per 90 minutes, with a 92nd percentile rate. However, he’s not the kind of player who looks to go on 1v1 duels with his dribbling technique (39th percentile) but has the pace and power to make progressive carries that enter the box (89th percentile).

Beyond that, he ranks below the median for passes per 90 and the accuracy of those passes (44th percentile for both). He’s usually taking dangerous passes (89th percentile) to try and create opportunities for his team. This low percentile at passes but high one at the dangerous ones he tries only define what he looks like with the ball on his feet: Direct ball progressions. He has a decent rate of how much he gets in contact with the ball (68th percentile), as also passes that aren’t executed only to break into the attack, but progress in other ways (61st percentile in progressive passes).

Defensively, the Gremio player doesn’t show an incredible output for the team, as he doesn’t tend to go for a duel, and also doesn’t win them (39th percentile for both), but has decent positioning (61st percentile). As well as this, he’s not into aerial duels with his height of 169cm. However, as he tries less, he ranks high in how much he wins (71st percentile).

xGold match to Vinicius Jr – 87%

#3 Jajá, 21 years old, LW, Cruzeiro and Brazil, 85% match

Using xGold to identify five similar players to Vinícius Jr – data analysis

The third most similar player to Vinicius, provided by our tool xGold, is Cruzeiro’s 21-year-old left-winger, Jajá. The Brazilian shows incredible similarities to the former Flamengo player as he ranks very high in every attacking metric. He contributes at the very top for goals and expected goals which means he’s normally getting into goal-scoring positions or creating chances for his team. His 72nd percentile and 75th percentile ranking respectively on goal and expected goal contributions explain this.

Jajá as well makes shots often at Cruzeiro and sit in the 69th percentile, but the most impressive aspect is how high he is in terms of dribbles per 90 and opposition box entries, with 93th and 96th percentile. Top-numbers for a young-talented player.

Similar to Gabriel Teixeira, he gets constantly on the ball and enters passing circuits in the build-up stages. However, he has to get much better in terms of accuracy (3rd percentile). This also means he likes to go always forward, but he has to find the right balance between these. 66th percentile at passes, 90th percentile at dangerous passes, and 78th at progressive and received are absolutely wonderful for a winger who’s developing.

Defensively, he’s way similar to Vinicius and to Gabriel Teixeira, however, he has a difference in terms of how many defensive duels per 90 he goes to, as he goes to many with an 84th percentile, but not winning too much of them with a 39th percentile. Although he’s not that little, listed at 180cm, he doesn’t tend to go to aerial duels and win them, and like some of this shortlist, his positioning is decent (66th percentile).

xGold match to Vinicius Jr – 85%

#4 Matheus Martins, 19 years old, LW, Fluminense and Brazil, 84% match

Using xGold to identify five similar players to Vinícius Jr – data analysis

Let’s reverse the order and start with the defensive metrics in the case of 19-year-old Matheus Martins, the youngest player on this list. The Fluminense left-winger is the fourth most-similar player to Vinicius Jr. Above us in the pizza chart, we can see the Brazilian’s not the best player on the defensive phase of the game, as he’s not constantly getting neither to defensive duels nor aerial duels (sitting in the 27th percentile for both). Besides, he doesn’t support during the defensive phase usually, although he wins most of his little duels (94th percentile) but not the aerial ones (11th percentile). Like the four above this analysis, he has a decent positioning (69th percentile).

In the associative facet of his game, he’s a player that likes to get on the ball (72nd percentile in received passes) and contribute to the link-up plays of the team, (77th percentile in passes per 90) although, Matheus Martins is a more safe player in-possession (66th percentile accuracy in passes) that doesn’t break lines often or progress in different ways (49th percentile for progressive passes and 40th percentile on dangerous ones).

He’s a different style of player if we watch the pure attacking statistics. Top numbers on opposition box entries (88th percentile) and a high percentile in dribbles per 90 (66th percentile), meaning Matheus Martins is more of a carrier and dribbler when he’s on the ball. Even though 19-year-old Matheus hits the median for goals contributions (63th and 55th percentile) and below the median for shots (44th percentile), this has to be one of the things to get better.

xGold match to Vinicius Jr – 84%

#5 Maurício, 21 years old, RW, Internacional and Brazil, 84% match

Using xGold to identify five similar players to Vinícius Jr – data analysis

Last but not least, we have Maurício from Internacional of the Serie A of Brazil. The 21-year-old shows a decent display in the defensive metrics as he doesn’t go to many duels but wins most of them (17th and 66th respectively). However, in terms of aerial duels, he’s listed at 174cm but he’s not afraid of going to a decent rate of aerial duels per 90 (51st percentile), but he doesn’t hit the standards for how many he wins (33th percentile). Inside the shortlist, he’s the player with the lowest positioning, but still an average one (52nd percentile).

Associatively, he’s not the best player. Maurício doesn’t get normally in touch with the ball for Internacional (41st percentile for received passes), as well as he’s not doing dangerous, progressive or mainly passes (38th, 37th, 43rd percentile). His game style is very different in terms of passing to many of the players that have been deployed on this shortlist.

Maurício, however, is a good player in terms of attack. He’s not the best dribbler (48th percentile), but he’s an aggressive player to enter the box at every game, ranking as one of the best players in this feature of the game (92nd percentile) and doing it several times at matches.

On the other side, Maurício also likes to contribute on goals and create scoring chances for his team with a 70th and 76th percentile, as well as a decent rate of how many shots he takes per 90 (64th percentile).

xGold match to Vinicius Jr – 84%

Conclusion

Brazil is always developing players in every line, position and different roles that have redefined football several years and decades through the history of the sport. Ronaldinho at his time was an absolutely different model and profile to what kind of winger we used to see.

Cafú transform the full-back spot into an attacking one, and we can stay 10 or 20 paragraphs talking about Brazilian players who created new roles for the game.

Vinicius Jr is marking an era, a golden one at Real Madrid, where he shows people what a winger that attacks space and carries the ball forward with power and intelligence can provide to his club: a Champions League. Players that we have seen in this shortlist are just the tip of the iceberg of what this amazing country produces year by year.