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Ronald Araujo vs Vinicius Jr: How the Barca defender became the Brazilians’ kryptonite

The Athletic

Vinicius Jr is the most important footballer in the world.”

Real madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti made that bold statement last monthcomplimented the team’s top scorer this season.

Xavi might disagree. The Barcelona the manager came up with a plan to stop the sparkling Brazilian winger after he helped take down the Catalan giants in the 2022 Supercopa de Espana semi-finals, which Real won 3-2.

That was the plan Ronald Araujo. Three Classicos later, the Uruguay defender has become Vinicius Jr.’s kryptonite.

In March last year, Xavi decided to deploy Araujo at right-back to counter the Brazilian’s threat from the left for Madrid. Barca won that match at the Santiago Bernabeu 4-0, Vinicius Jr was ruled out and the plan stood firm.

Araujo has played three times at right-back against Madrid (four including a 1-0 friendly win against Real last July). Barcelona have won all three and Vinicius Jr has failed to score or provide an assist in those meetings.

In three games at right-back, Ronald Araujo has nullified Vinicius Jr (Photo: Angel Martinez/Getty Images).

Although three official games is a small sample size, the numbers are striking. Vinicius Jr has averaged 4.7 attempts per game with Araujo at right back. In all other games for Madrid, he has attempted an average of 8.1 dribbles per game.

Vinicius Jr normally completes 3.1 dribbles per game, but that number drops to 2.3 in these three games against Barca. He has been limited to just 1.3 shots per game in these Clasico meetings, compared to his usual average of 2.7. As for Vinicius Jr’s duel with Araujo over the course of the three games, the 22-year-old has attempted to take on the Uruguayan four times. He has only come out on top once.

Clasico battle of Vinicius Jr. (at 90)

Vinicius Jr average Vinicius Jr with Araujo at right back

Dribbles attempted



Dribbling over






“Ronald is the winner of the duel,” Xavi said this month. “He then works to run into space. He wins them by being aggressive in the forward press. He wins them in air fights. He is one of the best in the world in defensive tasks, fundamental for us, no matter where he plays.”

These qualities have all been on display in the three games that Araujo has disabled Vinicius Jr. But each Clasico has shown a different side to the 24-year-old’s game: from daring Vinicius Jr to run past him in last year’s 4-0 rout to relentlessly pressing the Barca winger 3-1 Supercopa final win in January. Araujo then showed his qualities when he played in a low block when Barca won 1-0 against Madrid in the match. First game in the semi-finals of the cup competition this month.

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Ahead of Madrid’s visit to the Camp Nou on Sunday, Athletic has analyzed these three games to explain how Barca found the perfect antidote to combat the dangers of one of the world’s best players.

Real Madrid 0-4 Barcelona, La LigaMarch 20, 2022

Araujo’s first game at right-back against Vinicius Jr came after Dani Alves endured a lot of time against his Brazilian in the Supercopa semi-finals earlier this season.

The Uruguayan had no such problems against Real’s star man here and even scored from a corner to complete a superb performance. Araujo thrived in a man-marking system against Vinicius Jr and even when he lost the ball he could rely on his skills as one to get him out of trouble.

Here we see Araujo lose the ball in the fifth minute as Barca looked to build an attack. Toni Kroos recovers and looks to set off Vinicius Jr on runs in behind the Barca defence.

But Araujo could afford to make that mistake. His physicality and understated pace allowed him to track up, catch Vinicius Jr and produce a charge on the left shoulder to dislodge the Brazilian.

You might think a physical outburst was Araujo’s last resort, but look what happened within 30 seconds of that incident.

Madrid gained control of the ball quickly and began another attack down the left flank, with Vinicius Jr keen to fully test Barca’s new right-back. Luka Modric has a clean run ahead of him and can wait for the winger to get to full speed before exploiting the vast space behind Araujo — who is his men’s last man in defence.

Modric waits until the right moment to pass on Vinicius Jr. The Brazilian is on the run, but Araujo sticks with the striker and refuses to back down.

Araujo’s combination of speed and physicality is too much for Vinicius Jr again. The Uruguayan outmuscles the Madrid winger and takes the ball away from him before he can make one of his main runs.

Madrid clearly wanted to exploit the left channel as the example below shows. This was Vinicius Jr’s third duel with Araujo and it came in the seventh minute.

Kroos again tries to find Vinicius Jr behind the Barca defense and plays a pass into considerable space. Araujo is wrong-footed and the Brazilian has an advantage over the Uruguayan in terms of possession.

Again, however, Araujo catches Vinicius Jr – for the third time in six minutes. The picture below shows how far the right-back is from other members of Barca’s defence—Gerard Pique, Eric Garcia and Jordi Alba — who are running at full speed but can’t keep up with Araujo and Vinicius Jr.

Ancelotti’s side started the match with a clear intention to focus their attacks through Vinicius Jr — Karim Benzema left the field injured — but they ran into an unexpected obstacle. Araujo’s man-of-the-match work helped Barca to an impressive victory – apart from a 3-1 win at Real in October when the Uruguayan was unavailable due to injury, Xavi’s side have never looked back.

Real Madrid 1-3 Barcelona, ​​Supercopa final, January 15, 2023

On to this season. After missing the first Clasico of the season through injury, Araujo returned to right-back for Supercopa final in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

It was a completely different game than Barca beat Madrid 10 months earlier. Xavi’s side were better from a collective point of view and their defensive setup was vastly improved.

Araujo wasn’t forced to backtrack as much this time. In stead, Barca’s high pressing excelled and Araujo didn’t let Vinicius Jr get a moment’s respite. As soon as the Brazilian controlled the ball, the Uruguayan would immediately pounce to prevent it from turning.

Here we see Antonio Rudiger There is a big gap between Araujo and Vinicius Jr and the right-back seems to be at a disadvantage.

But when the ball hits Vinicius Jr’s feet, Araujo is already there. Ousmane Dembele has also found itself limiting the winger’s options.

Araujo uses his body to unsettle Vinicius Jr and wrestle possession away from his opponent.

Araujo never left Vinicius Jr’s side, even when the Brazilian dropped deep to create more space for Real. Here the winger was looking for an outlet for Madrid after Barca’s attacking pressure, but Araujo was there to win an aerial duel against his man.

Ancelotti ended up instructing Vinicius Jr to cut inside, with Benzema moving forward to distract Araujo from his strike partner. But Vinicius Jr found no joy in those central positions and lacked service from others as Madrid were completely outplayed.

According to Opta, Vinicius Jr finished with no shots and no chances created. It was probably Barcelona’s most complete performance under Xavi and showed that the Araujo plan was here to stay.

Real Madrid 0-1 Barcelona, Copa del Rey first semi-final, 2 March 2023

The latest chapter of Vinicius Jr vs Araujo. This time, Araujo didn’t press as hard as he had in the Supercopa final or look to match Vinicius Jr’s runs down the wing as he had in last year’s demolition of Madrid.

Instead, Barcelona were forced to sit back and survive – and Araujo obliged. But the Uruguayan shone in survival mode and played a vital role in an impressive defensive performance from Xavi’s side.

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It was a different story from the beginning of the game. In the sixth minute, Vinicius Jr received the ball in a dangerous position and headed towards goal. Instead of pressing him immediately, Araujo gave him space and waited for the Brazilian’s next move.

When Vinicius Jr got to the box, Araujo’s strategy became clear: he forced the winger onto his weaker left foot.

Vinicius Jr. was fine with a pass but Araujo got over to block it and was awarded a corner.

Araujo would allow the ball to drift onto Vinicius Jr’s left foot, knowing it would result in a low-quality finish. It was just as effective further from goal as well, as the following example shows.

Araujo forced Vinicius Jr back into a cross with his left foot and this was easily saved Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Barca goalkeeperwho was good at reading cuts from both sides.

Vinicius Jr’s latest fight with Araujo was by far the one that excited him the most. The striker looked weak and tired against Uruguay and his decision-making suffered.

The Brazilian took so long deciding how to dribble past Araujo in the 66th minute that he allowed Sergio Busquets to drop back and help his right back.

Outcome? Vinicius Jr was trapped and chased by the Barca players.

It was striking how much Vinicius Jr. tried to cut inside or drop deep in the second half to avoid Araujo.

Of the three games analyzed, this was the one in which the Madrid forward made the most touches (71) – but none of them were in the right areas.

In the second half, it was clear that Araujo was in the head of Vinicius Jr. In this example, the winger found himself in the perfect position to test Araujo, with plenty of space behind the right-back.

But it was Araujo, so Vinicius Jr looked to try something else instead. In this case, he made a pass towards Benzema but it did not reach the striker.

All this sets things up nicely for the next battle between Araujo and Vinicius Jr at the Camp Nou on Sunday. Barcelona have the chance to go 12 points clear at the top of La Liga and Araujo will again be called upon to nullify the threat posed by the Madrid striker.

Expect another hard-fought duel, more tactical changes from both players and two players full of motivation to prove themselves again. The latest chapter in El Clasico’s new greatest personal rivalry promises more fireworks.

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