In-form Max Verstappen enjoys serene Styrian GP success

By Sports Desk June 27, 2021

Max Verstappen avoided any drama as he secured a record-setting third win at the Red Bull Ring to pull further clear at the top of the drivers' championship.

Verstappen's fourth victory of 2021 – his best return in a single Formula One campaign – gave Red Bull a weekend to remember at their home track at the Styrian Grand Prix.

This triumph never appeared under serious threat, however, as Verstappen started from pole and quickly pulled clear of defending champion and title rival Lewis Hamilton.

With Sergio Perez victorious at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix between two prior Verstappen successes, Red Bull have four straight victories for the first time in the hybrid era ahead of a return to this circuit next week for the Austrian Grand Prix, the third leg of a triple-header.

As Verstappen quickly escaped Hamilton's attention, major incident was reserved for further back in the field.

Hamilton was also in the clear despite an early battle between Perez and Lando Norris behind him. Norris won that tussle but offered little defence when Perez attacked again, also letting Valtteri Bottas through as McLaren focused on outlasting Ferrari.

Red Bull expertly executed an undercut in the previous race to give Verstappen the edge over Hamilton, but a poor pit stop cost Perez this time.

He dropped behind Bottas, who was swiftly called in to ensure he emerged on fresh tyres with an advantage still intact.

Hamilton was followed in by Verstappen, whose lead was so significant the Mercedes man could scarcely see the back of his opponent as he exited the pit lane.

He never got any nearer, with Verstappen showboating as he crossed the line well clear of any competition.

Hamilton at least took the fastest lap and Bottas held off Perez in a tense scrap after both men pitted once more, giving Mercedes two drivers on the podium.

LEWIS BEING LEFT BEHIND

Such was Verstappen's advantage with still more than 10 laps remaining that Hamilton appealed to his team radio for guidance.

The seven-time champion knew he had no chance of cutting the gap to Verstappen but understandably did not much like the idea of settling for second.

Only twice in the hybrid era (both in 2016) has Hamilton previously gone more than four races – his current winless run – without a victory in a single season.

WILLIAMS WOE ONCE MORE

Hamilton at least enjoyed a better outing than the man who could eventually become his Mercedes team-mate.

George Russell was running in eighth after early contact between Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly caused chaos and ended the latter's afternoon.

All was going so uncharacteristically well for Williams as Russell piled pressure on seventh-placed Fernando Alonso, already on course for a career-best finish.

Then a power unit issue kept Russell in the pit lane for an extended period. A second stop to treat the same problem set the Williams man back further and a third visit was his last, cutting his race short on another frustrating day.

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    Manuel Neuer was full of praise for Thomas Muller and his "weird" celebrations after the Bayern Munich forward got a milestone goal in the 3-1 win at Greuther Furth.

    Robert Lewandowski's long goalscoring streak ended at 15 consecutive Bundesliga games – one short of Gerd Muller's record – but the champions moved three points clear of Wolfsburg.

    That is now 40 goals in their past eight matches for ruthless Bayern, who led 2-0 courtesy of great finishes from Muller and Kimmich at half-time.

    Benjamin Pavard was given his marching orders for a professional foul on Jeremy Dudziak early in the second half, but a Sebastian Griesbeck own goal extended their lead.

    Cedric Itten's header in the closing stages was too little, too late for bottom side Furth in the Bavarian derby at Sportpark Ronhof on Friday.

    Muller, who also scored the opener in recent victories over Barcelona and Hertha Berlin, is now on 218 goals for Bayern, one more than Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

    Neuer was delighted for his long-time team-mate, although he joked the forward could be summoned to a meeting with the former Bayern CEO after taking his place in the all-time list.

    "He doesn't get tired and has been around for a long time," Neuer said, as per Bayern's website.

    "I've accompanied him for long stretches of this time, and I'm always happy about every one of Thomas' goals and celebrations, which sometimes look a bit weird with him.

    "I'm especially happy for him personally, because we've been playing together for a long time, but I think he'll have to report to Kalle [Rummenigge] today."

    Bayern, who next face Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League on Wednesday, have started the season with eight consecutive victories under coach Julian Nagelsmann.

    Neuer himself added: "It looks quite good. We scored three goals and showed a good attitude. In the first half, we didn't make enough of it when we had space. We wasted a lot of chances. That's annoying.

    "Despite being a man down, we made it 3-0, which gives you a good feeling. Then we got in between the lines better, but sometimes we were too sloppy.

    "It's nitpicking really, but we can still play more flowing football. We're happy with how it's going, but we always have to take the next step and improve."

  • Solskjaer: Man Utd need to start 1-0 down! Solskjaer: Man Utd need to start 1-0 down!

    Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer joked he has written to the Premier League to ask them if his team can start matches 1-0 down.

    United have come from behind to claim points in top-flight matches against Southampton and West Ham this season and also made a habit of launching comebacks in the 2020-21 campaign.

    But they could not recover from a slow start on Wednesday as they suffered a 1-0 defeat to West Ham in the EFL Cup, with Solskjaer critical of how his team began the game.

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    "We need to start games better of course," he said.

    "I've sent a letter to the Premier League asking if we can start games 1-0 down, it'll make things so much easier for us!

    "Joking apart, it's a big, big part of the game and we need to start better, we can't expect to come back and win games as we have done fantastically in the last 12, 14, 15 months but it's going to catch up with us.

    "It's been looked at and talked about and hopefully we can see a response."

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    Solskjaer said ahead of the match at Old Trafford that he believes the Portugal forward is capable of playing into his 40s due to his supreme physical conditioning.

    Villa have earned just one win in their last 45 Premier League games against the Red Devils, racking up an astonishing 33 defeats in that span.

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  • Vini, vidi, vici? Vinicius Junior emerging at last as Real Madrid's next superstar Vini, vidi, vici? Vinicius Junior emerging at last as Real Madrid's next superstar

    "I am not a magician," said Carlo Ancelotti. "Just a coach who has to give players the confidence they need to express their qualities."

    The Real Madrid boss was talking about arguably the standout player from Los Blancos' strong start to the season – and, brilliant as he continues to be, it's not Karim Benzema.

    When Ancelotti spoke before Madrid's 2-1 win at Valencia, Vinicius Junior was on a run of four goals in as many games in LaLiga. That tally reached five in five after he fired in a late equaliser at Mestalla – as many goals as he had scored in 59 previous league matches.

    For attacking players, nothing builds belief like the support of a coach and regularly sticking the ball in the net. Vinicius has both of those things going for him right now, and it's yielding the best form of his Madrid career.

    NEW-MAR

    Signed amid much fanfare from Flamengo three years ago, it has taken Vinicius time to fully find his feet in the Spanish capital. Patience is notoriously thin on the ground where Madrid are concerned, but fans have been more willing than usual to play the long game with the Brazil international, who has already played 88 times in Spain's top flight, a tally bettered by just six compatriots in the club's history.

    Given Marca ran a headline this week asking whether Vinicius' form in 2021-22 meant Madrid had found "the new Neymar" – a player they once wanted to bring back to Spain, no less – it would appear the wait has been worth it.

    Along with five goals, Vinicius has provided two assists and created 10 chances this term, all of them from open play. Only Eden Hazard (12) and Karim Benzema (14) have created more among Madrid's squad. Indeed, among players aged 21 and under, only Erling Haaland (seven goals, three assists) has been directly involved in more goals in 2021-22 in Europe's top five leagues.

    After the first six matches of 2020-21, Vinicius had two goals and zero assists, with three chances created for team-mates. Granted, he had spent 52 fewer minutes on the pitch in those six games than he has this season, but he has undeniably made better use of the time given to him of late.

    In the first six games of 2021-22, Vinicius' 17 shots have come amid a 2.64 expected goals (xG) total, but they account for 4.36 expected goals on target (xGOT), giving some indication as to the high quality of his attempts. (The xG metric assesses the quality of chances, and xGOT looks at the player's actual effort at goal.)

    By contrast, at the same stage of last season, he had xG of 2.58 but xGOT of just 1.49 from 13 shots.

    KYLIAN (IN THE NAME OF)

    A strong indicator of Vinicius' form, his willingness to stand up in matches and why those Neymar comparisons are a little closer to the mark than they once were, is the upturn in his impact when running with the ball.

    After six games in LaLiga last term, he had completed only five of 17 attempted take-ons. That success rate of 29.4 per cent was the lowest of any Madrid player to complete at least one dribble.

    This season, that success rate has jumped to 47.6 per cent, Vinicius having completed 20 of 42 attempted take-ons. These are identical figures to one Kylian Mbappe of Paris Saint-Germain – another Madrid transfer target.

    Not only that, but 42 attempted take-ons is the most by any player in LaLiga in 2021-22, while Vinicius also ranks highest for take-ons in the box (eight) and those ending with a shot (four), and joint-highest for drives into the penalty area (also four).

    HEARTBEAT

    Vinicius is also averaging 62 touches of the ball per 90 minutes, an increase from 57 at this stage of the season in 2020-21. It follows that he is more heavily involved in the action at the top end of the pitch: he has had 36 involvements in shot-ending sequences in LaLiga, a figure bettered only by Real Betis' Nabil Fekir (38) and Madrid's own Benzema (51). On average, his tally has jumped from just over three per game in 2020-21 to more than seven in 2021-22. And, of those sequences this season, 10 have ended in a goal – only Benzema (14) can do better.

    This is a player embracing responsibility, demanding the ball, and dazzling when he gets it: in short, he's showing all the best qualities of Neymar, Mbappe or anyone else Madrid may wish to buy, and offering fans everything they hoped for when he first arrived for €46million in 2018.

    Perhaps competition is bringing the best out of Vinicius: with Gareth Bale back at the Santiago Bernabeu (although presently injured), Eden Hazard showing more encouraging signs and Marco Asensio fully fit again, there is no shortage of options for the Benzema support act. Or maybe Ancelotti really does have the magic touch to keep Vinicius in vibrant form for a whole season, beyond the fleeting glimpses displayed under Zinedine Zidane.

    Whatever the reason, Vinicius has never looked so dangerous in a Madrid shirt. Worryingly for his opponents, there could be plenty more to come.

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