Vinícius Júnior had more than his goal to celebrate in Real Madrid’s 2-0 win over Valencia in the Spanish league on Thursday.
Vinícius also was glad to escape serious injury after a vicious foul by Gabriel Paulista in the second half, which ignited a brawl and earned the Valencia defender a straight red card.
Paulista struck a hard kick at Vinícius’ legs after the Brazil forward got past him with the ball in the 72nd minute, sending the Brazil forward hard to the ground. Vinícius quickly got up and went to confront Paulista, shoving him from behind as other players arrived to join the scuffle.
“It was a hit without the ball, for no reason,” Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois said.
Madrid defender Éder Militão, who had been taken off earlier in the match, confronted Paulista as he made his way to the tunnel after being sent off.
“What Paulista did wasn’t correct, it was a clear red card,” Valencia coach Voro González said. “The match was already tough, and it became impossible with a player down.”
Vinícius scored his goal after a long run on a breakaway in the 54th, two minutes after Marco Asensio had given the hosts the lead with a shot from outside the area.
Vinícius endured a tumultuous period last week after his effigy was hanged off a bridge in a hate attack before Madrid’s game against city rival Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey.
“We have to protect Vinícius a bit,” Courtois said. “He is always dribbling and the defenders don’t like that. He is always getting hit. They think he is provoking them, but it’s his way of playing. We need this Vini to destabilize the opposing defense.”
Thursday’s win put Madrid back within five points of league leader Barcelona at the halfway point of the season. The Catalan club won 2-1 at Real Betis on Wednesday.
Both games were postponed from January because of the teams’ participation in the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia, where Madrid beat Valencia in the semifinals after a penalty shootout before losing to Barcelona in the final.
Madrid, which hadn’t won in two matches in all competitions, lost two of its key players because of injuries -- Militão had to be replaced in the first half and Karim Benzema early in the second.
Madrid has one last league game — at Mallorca on Sunday — before traveling to Morocco to play in FIFA's Club World Cup next week, when it will seek a record-extending eight title.
It was Valencia’s first game without coach Gennaro Gattuso, whose contract was terminated by mutual agreement amid the team’s poor run. González, a club director who often acts as an interim manager, is expected to stay in charge until the end of the season.
Valencia has won only one of its last 11 league games and is one point from the relegation zone. Its only two wins this year came in the Copa del Rey, though it failed to get past the quarterfinals.
Defender Antonio Rüdiger thought he had put Madrid ahead with a header off a corner kick three minutes into first-half stoppage time, but the goal was disallowed after video review saw a foul by Benzema away from the ball.
Madrid, the defending league champion, is six points in front of third-place Real Sociedad.