Fabio Carvalho: The Next Philippe Coutinho?
Updated: Aug 25, 2022
Fabio Carvalho is a versatile Portuguese forward who in the summer signed for Liverpool FC from Fulham. His impressive performances in the EFL Championship have warranted some Liverpool fans to label him as the next Phillipe Coutinho, at just 19 years old. No pressure, then!
In their hunt for the quadruple last season, Jurgen Klopp’s men often lacked an alternative creative spark in attack when they needed another goal in games, due to injuries or simply a lack of depth in the attacking positions. Taki Minamino, who has now moved to AS Monaco, was rarely able to take control of a game and provide The Reds with a different type of attacking outlet from the left wing. Divock Origi, despite producing miracle moments for Liverpool over the years, was most potent as a traditional striker and has now left for AC Milan on a free transfer. Harvey Elliott spent most of the season tormented by a horrific ankle injury, but prior to this had found his best form in midfield for Liverpool.
The Reds lacked, and are still lacking, a player who can be creative within the attack and make something happen when they need another goal. Fabio Carvalho might be just that player.
With forwards Sadio Mane, Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino all departing from Liverpool this summer, it is likely that Fabio Carvalho will play a significant role for Liverpool this season. He is part of an attacking refresh that has seen 22 year old striker Darwin Nunez and 25 year old Luis Diaz join the club in recent months, with both Mohammed Salah and Roberto Firmino now 30 years old. Klopp’s shake-up of his forward line is similar to the work that Alex Ferguson conducted at Manchester United, with a focus on finding the next generation of attacking legends for a relatively low price. The young 19 year old forward has the ability to become part of Liverpool’s folklore, fulfilling the ‘next Coutinho’ label and beyond.
The Portuguese talent played a big role in Fulham’s title winning Championship run, scoring 10 goals and assisting 8 times in 36 appearances. At his young age, this is an incredibly impressive tally, along with his average of 2.4 shots per 90, half of these on target. What makes Carvalho a special player though is his ability to create chances and his movement. On average, Carvalho created 2.2 chances for Fulham per 90 last season, making him one of the most prolific chance creators amongst the Championship regular starters.
Carvalho has pace in abundance and is an exciting dribbling talent, allowing him to evade defenders with his movement and to create chances for his teammates. The 19 year old started most of his games as a no.10 for Marco Silva’s Fulham, often using his dribbling to escape defenders on the counter attack and setting up a chance. It is Carvalho’s agility and his ability to dribble through and create in tight spaces that has made many label him as the next Coutinho. Carvalho demonstrated this ability against Barnsley, when he dribbled past multiple defenders before playing a 1-2 with striker Mitrovic, with the Portuguese young talent finding the back of the net at the end of the move. He started this movement of play from the left side of the pitch, and has a tendency to conduct attacking moves from this side often. This is another similarity to Coutinho, who favours the left attacking wing and is most proficient from this area.
Carvalho’s movement off the ball is also incredibly intelligent. Many of his goals are the results of delayed, quick runs into the box, splitting the opposition backline and putting him in a good place to shoot. He demonstrated this in a game vs Millwall, where he made a delayed run on the right side of the defence. Winger Neeskens Kebano was able to find Carvalho with a pass through the back line, putting the wonderkid one on one with the Millwall goalkeeper. He was able to slot the ball home with a powerful finish into the right of the goal. This was a crucial goal for Marco Silva’s side against Millwall, and it was a move that illuminated Carvalho’s attacking intellect.
Another notable goal from Carvalho last season was against Manchester City away in the FA Cup third round, which was again the result of a delayed run from the exciting young talent. After only four minutes, Carvalho made a delayed run into the penalty box, between right back Kyle Walker and defender John Stones. Winger and former Red Harry Wilson crossed the ball into the penalty area, finding Carvalho who with his first touch was able to calmly slot the ball home at the Etihad. Although Fulham went on to lose 4-1 against Manchester City, Carvalho demonstrated that he was able to make quick-witted runs into the penalty box against one of the very best sides in world football. Throughout the game he demonstrated his qualities, creating one chance for his side and achieving a mighty impressive 83% pass accuracy against Pep Guardiola’s team.
Carvalho possesses a small physique, but this does not mean that he is hesitant when it comes to physical duels and pressing the opponent. The young Portuguese talent won 1.31 tackles per 90, possessing higher numbers than both Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane last season. His tackling numbers are strikingly similar to the Liverpool players who played striker last season, Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota, with 1.95 and 1.43 tackles per 90 respectively. Carvalho’s statistics illustrate how hard he works for the team and how he likes to win the ball back, an attribute that is essential within Klopp’s gegenpress system. Marco Silva’s system at Fulham relies heavily on turnovers, with the side scoring nine goals last season from them last season, the second highest in the league. This means that Carvalho should quickly become accustomed to Klopp’s style of playing at Liverpool, with the team accumulating the most amount of turnovers in play in the league last season.
When on the front foot, as previously mentioned, Carvalho’s ability to retain the ball is superb, illustrating his raw press resistant talents that will only be improved under the coaching of Jurgen Klopp. He is press resistant when he has the ball and is skilful at pressing without it; the definition of a Klopp-esque player.
Due to his versatility, Carvalho can fit into Liverpool’s side in different ways. He is similar with his pressing to Roberto Firmino, and if deployed as a false nine, he will be able to lead the effectively, push defences back, and capitalise on goal scoring opportunities with his impressive clinical ability. It is no secret that Roberto Firmino can not press as effectively as he did in previous seasons for Liverpool, and the striker has experienced a decline in form over the years. Carvalho may be able to replicate Firmino’s pressing duties within Klopp’s system, both on and off the ball.
In preseason games, Klopp chose to deploy Fabio Carvalho as a left winger, where he was able to link up nicely with new striker Darwin Nunez and create chances for the team. However, with Luis Diaz, Diogo Jota and even Nunez possessing the ability to play on the left wing, it feels unfair and a waste of his talent for Carvalho’s role to be limited to a left wing understudy.
Jurgen Klopp, if he wants to get the best out of his new young talent, should start Carvalho as a number 10 in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Klopp has been loyal for many seasons to the 4-3-3 formation, but after a shocking start to the season for Liverpool, it may be time for his tactics to adapt, especially with the arrival of 3 new attackers over the past year. He needs to think about changing systems. Playing a 4-2-3-1 would allow Carvalho to play in the position he did so well in at Fulham. Left back Andy Robertson and attacker Luis Diaz have not been able to link up effectively on the left wing so far, but Carvalho’s tendency to drift to the left could solve this issue. In his brief cameo against Manchester United, replacing James Milner in the 73rd minute, Carvalho played largely in midfield and created more than any other midfield player had in the game previously. It was his shot that forced a save from De Gea, with the ball rebounding in Salah’s path who was able to head home what was ultimately a consolation goal for Liverpool.
In truth, since the departure of Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool’s midfield has produced limited creativity over the past few seasons. Carvalho is an exceptional young talent who is able to provide the creative spark for Liverpool, which he has already demonstrated in his limited minutes so far. Klopp may choose to play his new attacking option in left winger, but the Liverpool coach will get the best out of Carvalho if he plays him as a no.10 in a 4-2-3-1. A new formation may also help revitalise his team that have experienced a horrific start to the season.