Fabio Carvalho has caught the attention of many Championship viewers early on into the season. After making a handful of Premier League appearances last term after Fulham had their relegation status confirmed, the question was; would Marco Silva show the same faith as Scott Parker did in England’s second tier. The Portuguese teenager performed admirably, he deserved a starting spot upon dropping down a division, and he has repaid Silva’s trust thus far.
Born in Lisbon, Carvalho was with Benfica between the ages of 8-11, before his family moved to England. He spent a season with Balham FC, a ninth-tier team based in the Borough of Wandsworth, before signing with Fulham in 2014. Eventually, he would sign a two-year scholarship with the club in 2018, after which he would break into the U18 setup aged just 15. He scored a hattrick on his U18 debut, in fact.
He won the club’s youth player of the season award in 2020, which preceded a first-team debut shortly after turning 18 in the EFL Cup against Sheffield Wednesday. His Premier League debut would come in May 2021, playing the last 12 minutes in a 2-0 away loss to rivals Chelsea. His first goal would then come against Southampton in the league just two weeks later. He then pushed on and cemented his place in the first-team for the 2021/22 Championship season.
Standing at 5’10” / 180cm, Carvalho is slightly taller than your average diminutive #10. His frame, however, is slight, and he does not lack the agility of a typical Portuguese playmaker, but in the future, he could bulk out to be able to withstand and ride challenges more regularly. He plays most of his football down the centre, but he has played as a winger in the past. He is a hybrid between a shadow striker who is hungry for goals and a clever operator of space in the vein of Thomas Müller.
Fabio Carvalho’s player profile, based on Championship 21/22 data.
Goalscoring first, assists later
Watching Carvalho, it is clear to see that he provides a dual-threat in the final third. He can shoot and create at an equal rate, and he is involved in mostly everything Fulham manage to create going forward. Though, three goals and one assist so far is about representative of a full season, if we were to extrapolate those numbers out. His shooting chances tend to be of a higher quality than the ones he creates with his key passes.
This is shown to be true in his underlying numbers. 2.77 shots, 0.53 xG, and 0.23 xA (all per 90) are all impressive figures but show that the 19-year-old is much more of a goal threat than he is a creative one. Although he does have potential as a creator, which we will get onto in more detail later on in the piece, his goalscoring represents his best attribute and one that demonstrates the uniqueness of his game.
Despite several forward passing options, Carvalho attempts the shot from outside the penalty area.
In the attacking transition, off the ball, Carvalho is able to truly show off the best aspects of his game. He has the intangible trait of knowing where to be in the final third all the time, something that cannot be quantified, but an attribute that should be valued very highly. His first goal in the Premier League against Southampton was a fantastic example of this – he started off the attack by linking play deep on the pitch, before making a late run into the area to attack a deep cross.
Carvalho starts the Fulham attack near the halfway line with a pass towards full-back Kenny Tete.
He ends the attack with a superb top corner finish.
Furthermore, he can act as a link man, playing the second or third assist, but most often the timing of his runs into the box to take shots, or the little steps to put off an opponent and create space for himself are very clever – something that should translate nicely to a top division. He is a good interpreter of space, and he seems to pop up in the right areas to facilitate the attacks forward, rather than side to side or backwards.
We can see that Carvalho, in the centre of the pitch, is open to attempting these ambitious through balls.
His shooting and finishing in of itself is a strong point in his game, but not one without its drawbacks. As mentioned before, he shoots more than he creates in the final third, but sometimes to his team’s detriment. Often it is to the benefit of his team, but occasionally he can shoot from low-percentage areas where it would be more beneficial to lay the ball off to an opponent. This is, however, common in young attackers and not specific to Carvalho’s game.
What is specific to Carvalho is his inability to shoot from range, or pull off first-time finishes. His long-range finishing lacks the requisite power or accuracy to test the goalkeeper – he finds that middle ground hard to reach. His first-time finishing is just currently lacking any sort of threat, he deals much better with taking shots on goal if he has a moment or two to compose himself first, which is not the case with most attackers unlike you might expect.
Carvalho here misses a high-value opportunity by shooting right into a Millwall defender.
So, from a shooting perspective, Carvalho is ultimately a plus to his team. His positioning and movement is already at a very good level, far ahead of where other 19-year-old attacking midfielders are in the Championship, and even older than him. It is a trait that you can expect to translate nicely to a higher level of competition. For a brief amount of time, we saw that it did in the Premier League minutes he did play.
Potential as a creator
One aspect of Carvalho’s game that is immediately obvious is his composure. For a teenage player with little to no experience in a stadium with tens of thousands of fans, sometimes not all in your favour, he has demonstrated a calm demeanour on the ball, which helps bring the best out of his game. It arguably helps him the most when he drops deeper to act as a platform for ball progression in the build-up.
He does this fairly frequently, and when he receives the ball, he invites pressure as a result. He is generally rather good at evading it – he is quite confident in taking the ball and either passing or dribbling around the corner, taking the ball past an opponent and progressing it up the pitch. Fairly often, he will drop deep in the channel just to link play and create an overload for him to collect the ball higher up the pitch and progress play.
Carvalho here drops deep to link play down the left channel.
He surges up the field to create a passing triangle down the left flank for Fulham.
This is indicative of Carvalho’s forward-thinking on a football pitch. He is always thinking of how to get the ball up the pitch and into the final third, and his decision making in this regard is rather measured. His one-footedness in these scenarios where he is under pressure trying to retain possession can hinder Carvalho somewhat, however. Playing at a higher level, or against a side that does thorough opposition analysis, this could be punished and is certainly an area for improvement.
He could also do with getting more out of his dribbling ability – which seems to be at a good level. Carvalho seems to lack confidence in his own ability to go past a player, as when he does attempt to, he demonstrates a good amount of natural skill and flair and is quite hard to stop unless fouled. Given his slight frame, he will go down more often than not when faced with a tackle.
Carvalho carries the ball in the left channel and uses skill to get to the byline, and while it doesn’t come off this time, the cutback potential was there.
His main avenue for creating chances is via through balls, either from deep or in the final third. As mentioned before, he is a forward thinker, but on top of that, he is an ambitious passer. Whenever he spots the opportunity to do so, Carvalho will try to play the through pass to a player running in behind, but his accuracy on these efforts to date are mixed. When they do succeed, however, they are dangerous and incisive, and just what a team needs that likes to counterattack fast.
Here Carvalho attempts the deeper through pass.
Cutbacks are also a go-to method of chance creation for Carvalho, and when he enters these areas, he is good at keeping check of who is inside the penalty area, and where he should aim his pass. He is yet to be rewarded an assist from such a method, but as we have seen with the likes of Man City under Pep Guardiola over the years, it is a supremely effective method of chance creation.
Carvalho attempts the cutback here as a result of some good movement, but the chance is wasted.
He has room to improve as a creator, overall. The signs are there for an ambitious passer and volume chance creator, but at the moment, he would rather shoot from areas you might expect him to pass the ball. The fundamentals are there, but Marco Silva, and whoever else coaches him in the next few years, could focus on getting the most out of some of his better technical attributes to make him an elite chance creator, as well as a top-level goalscorer.
Defending could be improved
Off the ball reveals an area for improvement with Carvalho. His pressing game could do with a few tweaks, essentially to do with his physical profile and pressing urgency. He isn’t the smallest playmaker at 5’10”, but his frame is slight and he is a weak player overall, prone to tumbling down before riding a challenge a little more often than you would like.
In terms of pressing, you could only stretch to call him a semi-effective presser. It’s not to say he doesn’t try hard enough, though he could certainly put more effort in, but seldom does he come up with the ball when aggressively pressing the ball-carrier. He does block passing lanes by virtue of pressing in the way that he does, but, at the moment, he just is not as effective as you’d like in regaining possession.
The opposition player passes the ball to a teammate, and Carvalho is on his tail.
Once he gets close to an opponent, he seems to show no real effort to regain possession.
His main problem is that he is just easy to defend against. Whenever challenging someone 1v1, opponents find Carvalho quite easy to block off and push away to create space for a pass. That, or Carvalho will almost reluctantly stick a leg out to block a pass, but this is easy to predict and get around from an opponent’s point of view.
As you can see, Carvalho’s opponent finds it quite easy to fend off his pressure.
Defensively, Carvalho is currently not up to scratch, but quite frankly, he doesn’t need to be. Silva’s Fulham are one of if not the best side in the division at the moment, and they attack much more often than they defend. Given this, it is hard to criticise Carvalho’s defending too much – it is unlikely that he does much work on it in training, when compared to attacking training, and rightly so.
Forecast for the future
Now 19-years-old, there is plenty of upside to Carvalho’s game – that much is obvious for anyone to see. He is currently playing at a top Championship level, and we have seen in recent years how seamlessly performances from attacking midfield in this division can translate to the Premier League (think Emi Buendia, Matheus Pereira, or Jack Grealish). He is so early on in his professional career, it is astounding to see the level he has already reached. His self-proclaimed Ballon D’or targets in the ‘next few years’ might be a bit of a reach, but shoot for the stars they say – you might just land on the moon.