David Carmo: Pepe’s towering new partner at Porto – scout report
Chancel Mbemba’s exit created a void at centre-back for FC Porto.
Despite some internal options, the northern Portuguese side has opted for one of their neighbour’s bright young talents, signing David Carmo from Braga.
Carmo, who turns 23 on 19 July, is a physically imposing and towering presence, standing at 196 cm. Anchoring the Braga back three during the second half of 2021/22, he helped the team to the third-fewest goals conceded in Portugal’s top flight.
Signed by Porto for €20 million, the club immediately injected an €80 million release clause into his contract. Pairing him with Portgual’s long-time centre-back stalwart and Real Madrid legend, Pepe, also goes a long way towards securing a spot for Carmo on Portugal’s flight to Qatar. This scout report will look both at the player and Porto’s positional needs through data and tactical analysis. We want to get a sense of the predicaments Porto’s centre-backs encounter and how Carmo fits their tactical needs.
Fitting the Porto profile
More so than any other position, the profile a club needs at centre-back is contingent both upon the game model and the pieces higher up the pitch. So much context is needed in centre-back recruitment that we have to examine Carmo’s strengths as well as the profile Porto requires.
Let’s start with the player profile. Comparing his data to other centre-backs in the Primeira Liga, we see Braga relied heavily on his passing range to progress the attack. In terms of sheer quantity, he was heavily involved. However, his efficiency numbers rated poorly relative to other Primeira Liga centre-backs. This is an area we’ll have to return to through video analysis.
More surprising is the defensive actions data. For someone who stands at 196 cm, you would expect him to win a higher percentage of aerial duels. Further, as the central defender in a back three, his possession-adjusted interceptions P90 data is relatively low.
The young Portuguese’s defensive duels and win percentage are even more surprising. Carmo rates in the 21st percentile for dual P90 and the 14th for wins, so there is perhaps some surprise that Porto splashed the cash on the Braga man when looking strictly at the stats.
Remember that the data is our starting point. We not only have to determine what kind of player Carmo is, but also take a closer look at the profile of a Porto centre-back. The bubble chart below gives us a visual of where the minutes went last season.
Mbemba earned the most minutes and appearances while Pepe, who turns 40 next season, was second in each category. Fábio Cardoso made 14 appearances, earning 1,180 minutes and Iván Marcano saw the pitch eight times with a total of 708 minutes played.
Porto led the Primeira Liga with just 22 goals conceded last season. Given the success they encountered, replacing Mbemba with at least an equivalent talent is critical. With that in mind, we want to see where last season’s centre-backs performed well and where they struggled relative to the league. We also want to get a general sense of the positional demands from a data perspective. The next three images will help us in our analysis.
First, we’ll look at possession-adjusted interceptions, duels won percentage and duels P90 minutes. The scatter plot features all Primeira Liga centre-backs with at least 500 minutes played. Highlighted are the four players who featured for Porto last season, as well as Carmo. Based on the data, his performance was very similar to Mbemba’s. The biggest difference between the two players is in their defensive duels P90, which in 2021/22 finished at 6.06 for Mbemba and 7.28 for Carmo.
One area the club could use an upgrade is in the air. 35-year-old Marcano was the top-performing Porto centre-back with a slightly above average number of aerial duels P90 and a median performance in his win percentage. Otherwise, you’ll find the remaining three players in the bottom left quadrant, marking below-average performance in both metrics.
This is perhaps where Carmo will help Porto the most. You can’t teach height in Carmo has plenty of it. He rates in the top right quadrant, indicating he’s one of the top performers in the league in terms of aerial ability.
Turning to the attacking data, we do see some distinctions between Carmo’s stats and those of the other Porto centre-backs. The former Braga man tops the charts in passes P90, progressive passes P90, passes to the final third P90 and long passes P90. However, when you look at the efficiency of his passes, both overall and specifically with his long pass accuracy, he rates fifth in the former and fourth in the latter.
As one of Portugal’s top four teams, Braga did tend to enjoy the greater share of possession in their matches. That gave them the freedom to set the initiative through their attacking tactics and determine the match’s tempo.
Looking at the two clubs, Braga averaged 52.8% possession per match compared to Porto’s 62%. Though Os Arsenalistas typically enjoyed some degree of freedom in attack, Carmo will find that he’s taking a step up in terms of the amount of possession his side enjoys, the team’s attacking structure and the degree of skill needed to break down the opposition’s press.
Though he was the Braga centre-back most likely to direct the build-out, Carmo will likely concede that responsibility to Pepe during the 22/23 season, then take on an even larger degree of responsibility when the Portuguese legend retires. Porto will likely place the same expectations and burden on Carmo that he experienced at Braga.
Physical and psychological traits
Before moving on to his attacking and defensive qualities, Carmo’s physical and psychological traits are worthy of analysis.
When you watch his performances at Braga, two of his standout features are his physique and leadership. His size and strength are immediately apparent. He towers over opposing forwards and has the power to control them physically. Though he can certainly add more aggression to his game, he has the build to overpower almost any forward in the world. This will likely come in handy when Porto competes in the Champions League, especially as they drop deeper against some of Europe’s top clubs.
Equally as impressive as the way he conducts himself on the pitch. Despite his age, he’s a vocal leader with an excellent understanding of the game. One of the scenarios that stood out was against Porto. As Braga was forced to quickly retreat into their own box, you could see Carmo scanning the pitch for approaching runners and giving directions to his teammates. His body orientation allows him to see both the ball and the incoming runners. Showing the presence of mind to prepare himself for the cross while also situating his teammates is a major positive showing both leadership and football IQ.
In addition to his voice, he uses his hands and arms really well to communicate ideas and point out potential threats. In the image above, he’s pointing to a specific threat while communicating responsibilities to teammates. In the image below, we see the eye contact with members of the backline and the use of his arms to signal them to step up higher. He’s taking charge of the situation, setting the height of his backline and working with his teammates to set the team’s out-of-possession structure.
That organization was key to Braga’s success. Across all competitions, he made 17 appearances for Os Arcebispos. In those matches, the team conceded just 12 goals. That includes three-goal games for both Rangers in the Europa League and against Famalicão in the season finale. When he was on the pitch, Braga were nearly impenetrable.
In addition to his leadership and organizational strengths, he was a difficult player for opposition forwards to match up against 1v1. This was especially the case when they played back to goal. Carmo would simply overpower them, as we see in the image below.
Where he struggled most was when quicker or faster opponents were able to run at him. It’s a tough situation for any defender, especially when there’s little to no help behind them, but this is certainly where Carmo looked shakiest. With his size, qualities like quickness, agility and acceleration tend to favour his opponents. The situation below against Portimonense shows his over pursuit while defending near his box without cover. As a pass comes into his opponent, Carmo slides quickly, but his forward momentum is targeted by the opponent who cuts back across the big man to move into a more central shooting location.
That’s all he needed to get the shot off. By the time Carmo could recover, the shot was away. A brilliant save by Matheus preserved Braga’s lead.
His top-end pace is decent overall, but it’s those first few steps where quicker and faster opponents can take advantage of him. Watching Carmo play, you do get the sense that he understands his deficiencies, which is why his leadership and ability to provide structure are so vital.
The situation you see above is actually quite rare. Through his partnership with the left and right centre-backs, as well as the two central midfielders ahead of him in Braga’s 3-4-3, he rarely found himself in those situations.
Now, at Porto, that could be another story. Playing in a back four with two attacking outside-backs, he will have less deep structural support than he did at Braga. His relationship with Pepe and his central midfielders will be critical to his success. He does fit the mould of a classic, powerful central defender in a four-back system, so he should make the transition between systems rather quickly. In terms of his fit within Porto’s tactics, his ability to cover depth and width with one fewer centre-back by his side will determine his success.
Let’s touch upon his attacking qualities before moving to defence. As mentioned, Porto was the Primeira Liga’s leader in average possession per game. Domestically, the expectation is to dictate play through the attack.
The biggest adjustment Carmo will make moving to Sérgio Conceição’s tactics will be his positioning and outlets in the change of system. Moving from Carlos Carvalhal’s 3-4-3 to Conceição’s 4-4-2 with a narrow midfield and two high outside-backs providing width, the naturally left-footed player will likely operate in the left half-space while Pepe slides to the right.
Braga also tended to ask Carmo to play a higher percentage of his passes long than Conceição will ask of him. That’s not to say that Braga took a “hit and hope” approach, but rather to say that Porto is very precise in possession. So while Carmo can hit a quality ball over the top, as we see below, that is likely the first feature of this game that will be deemphasized, at least in the attack.
Rather, his ability to switch the point of attack, especially to the right-wing, will take even greater priority. Pepe routinely played over the opposition’s press with long switches of play into the right-wing last season. That responsibility will now fall on Carmo while Pepe switches the point of attack from right to left.
To his credit, Carmo has shown the ability to consistently hit these passes. In both the image above and the one below, he shows nice touch to lead the opponent while maximizing the width of their positioning. Their ability to receive the pass is never in question, plus he hits it far enough up the pitch that the nearest opponent has no chance at an interception.
He can play with limited touches and in tight spaces well, so there’s the ability to play out of a well-organized, intense opposition high press. Where he’ll help Porto most in possession is his ability to switch the point of attack. Given Pepe’s quality in this area, Porto will now have two players at the back who can routinely hit high and wide targets.
Now, the section we’ve all been waiting for, Carmo’s defensive qualities. As a centre-back for Porto, the first requirement is the ability to defend while playing in a high line. Given their dominance in possession, the club will spend much of the game in the opponent’s half of the pitch. Further, most of the league will opt to drop into a midfield line of confrontation or a low block. Azuis e brancos centre-backs will spend much of the game at or near midfield. Defending that massive amount of space between the backline and the goalkeeper is paramount.
That’s where a video analysis of Carmo starts. Going into the scout report, the objective was to see how he fared against top opposition and watch him defend in a high line against a mid-table side that could hurt Braga on the counterattack. For top opposition, he featured against both Porto and Benfica, whereas the mid-table side selected was Estoril Praia.
Surprisingly, Carmo looked very comfortable against both Porto and Benfica. Especially against his new club, Braga’s organization was so superb there was really a moment of panic at the back. Carmo put in a good individual performance, but it’s the cohesiveness of the collective that really stood out. Credit their leader at the back.
Against Estoril, there was more work to be done. This is where Carmo was tested while playing a high line. As noted earlier, his acceleration is below average, which is a bit of a red flag. However, since his top pace is adequate, Carmo’s ability to read the play and anticipate balls over the top will be key to his success at Porto.
We got a glimpse of that anticipation against Estoril. Note that his opponent, Leonardo Ruiz, has a pace advantage. This is exactly the test we need to gauge his ability to defend in a high line. As the ball is played over the top, notice his spacing from the opponent. The gap is just over a meter, if not close to two. Next, look at their body mechanics. This frame represents the moment contact was made and the ball was played over the top. Based on the angle at which Carmo stands relative to his opponent, the big centre-back reads the pass sooner than his opponent and is a split second ahead as he starts to track back.
That early read is decisive. Carmo gets to the ball first to claim the interception. Also, notice the use of his body to separate his opponent from the ball. There’s good separation initiated by both the reach of his legs and arms. He’s not turning this ball over.
Let’s turn to the match against Benfica. Though Braga’s structure was mostly well organized, there was a moment of chaos in the first half. Benfica managed to receive behind the Braga midfield, giving them four players running at the Braga back three, which we see in the first frame of the three image sequence below.
Carmo’s first decision is to narrow his position, first gradually, then quickly as the former Braga player, Rafa Silva, takes a bigger touch. Approximately 30 m from goal, he’s within range to contest Silva. His attempt to block the pass is missed, clearing the way for Benfica to attack the Box.
Note the recovery positions of the Braga defenders. With the pass carrying Roman Yaremchuk into the right half-space, Matheus takes an aggressive position outside of the post to narrow the angle to goal. He’s essentially covering the width of the posts. Only a well-hit shot through his legs or over his shoulders has a chance of going in. What that does is limit the number of options his teammates have to cover. Carmo is nearest to the ball and ready to apply pressure if Yaremchuk takes another touch inside. Otherwise, the Braga players are positioned to deal with any passes into the six-yard box.
Though the situation was complicated and the recovery chaotic, Carmo and the backline showed a good understanding of the number of options available to Yaremchuk and responded well to Matheus’ aggressive positioning. That’s exactly the footballing IQ you hope to see from your backline.
Against open attacks, Carmo shows his quality with his aerial dominance. This is an area that Porto was lacking last season. Especially in Champions League play, his ability to defend against crosses will greatly benefit Porto. The Dragões tried to play over him last season, making clever runs into the box, but they were no match for the big man.
One thing to note in each of these sequences is his body orientation. He adapts his stance continuously, adjusting to see both the ball and opponents either in or entering his zone. His scanning is exceptional and he shows very good awareness of threats.
But even here, this is where Carmo will have to make an adjustment. Within a back three, blind side runs are often covered by the left and right centre-backs. There will be less help within the back four, even despite the fact that Porto’s outside-backs typically recover well. It’s a small adjustment to Porto’s tactics, but certainly one to consider. His scanning and body orientation will certainly help with the adjustment, so it’s likely the difference in starting positions that will require the most attention.
The last area we will look at is defending the box against negative crosses and deliveries from the half-spaces in the 18. One thing to note, which is seen in the image below, is that his initial starting point is typically very good. He’s exceptional at ensuring the negative cross is not an option. Without access to the penalty spot, opponents are more likely to force the ball inside the six, which his teammates have shown themselves very capable of dealing with.
When opponents look to deliver a ball from inside the box, but behind the backline, one interesting observation picked up in the video analysis is that his starting position is typically very good, but his wide stance makes it difficult for him to cut off passes beyond his leg’s reach. In the image below against Santa Clara, you can see his feet are considerably wider than his shoulders. It looks as though he’s anticipating the delivery into the six, but his stance keeps him from taking a quick shuffle step to intercept or clear the danger.
Although he’s typically well-positioned, opponents will note that anything beyond his fully extended legs will get by him. It’s also something for his teammates to note, especially his colleagues along the backline.
Carmo’s attention to detail with his starting positioning and body orientation will serve him well as he makes the transition to Porto’s tactics. There are a few things to work through, but with his footballing IQ and highly developed scanning talents, expect him to make the adjustments quickly.
Carmo is held in very high regard in Portugal. With a José Fonte-type presence on the pitch, there is an expectation that he can challenge for a starting spot in the national team within the next two or three years. Pepe may very well retire after the 2022 World Cup, which would open up a starting place next to Manchester City‘s Rúben Dias.
For Porto, this is a signing that should help them tremendously, both in the Primeira Liga and Champions League. Occasionally susceptible to crosses and shaky defending in the box, Carmo represents a positional upgrade who will benefit from Pepe’s tutelage.
Both Porto and Carmo will hope for a quick and seamless transition into the starting eleven. Doing so will help the club capture valuable early season points, which includes a match day three headliner against 2021/22 runners-up Sporting CP.
If the partnership at the back bears fruit, there may even be a spot for Carmo on the plane to Qatar.