Fabio Carvalho – England’s Championship starlet with Ballon d’Or ambitions by Fulham Jack
Having made his premier league debut in the backend of the 20/21 season, Fabio Carvalho has looked to become an integral part of the Championship’s strongest starters, Fulham. Just five games in, the 19 year-old has registered three goals and one assist from attacking midfield and will no doubt begin to catch the eyes of some of England’s biggest clubs, especially with his current contract set to expire in one year.
Operating in attacking midfield, while Carvalho has license to drift he generally looks to occupy the left halfspace under Fulham’s current system, though has shown versatility in his early career to play across the pitch. Carvalho is a very technically refined player, capable of receiving and turning to any angle and possesses the close-knit control to evade pressure and create space where applicable. This shows itself most in Carvalho’s comfortability with one-touch interplay in Fulham’s wide triangular rotations. In terms of chance creation, he’s not so much of a direct chance creator meaning he won’t swing in a cross or thread a through pass as such, more so he creates chances with cutbacks and clever movement. He’s quite a calm finisher, who doesn’t really snatch at chances and will often let the ball run across his body well, but though his finishing is strong, it’s not to the level of a natural finisher but should still be seen as a positive.
However, whilst his on-ball capabilities would already suggest him to be a very proficient player for his age, his work off-ball is what really sets him apart. His most prominent weapon in his arsenal are runs in between FB’s and CB’s, which is often coupled with Fulham’s horizontal stretching off the opposition’s backline. From crosses, Carvalho generally looks to arrive late in the box, which combined with his ability to be still in the box and not get caught up in all the movement (as seen in his goal vs Huddersfield) makes him very effective at scoring off cutbacks. His only weakness in regards to moving in the box can be the occasional ball-watching of the crosser, as opposed to scanning for space.
It’s not just his ability to attack space that’s effective though, his overall use of space is strong also. Fulham’s game against Middlesbrough was a good example of this, as he looked to face a tough test against Warnock’s rigid man-marking system. Faced with a situation where most inexperienced players struggle, Carvalho instead excelled, consistently manipulated his marker to both create and occupy space effectively. Specifically, when receiving the ball, the 18 year-old utilised excellent counter-movements, curved and blindside runs to dismark, and showed excellent awareness when timing his runs, never arriving too early or too late into space. As for creating space, he did well to drag his marker away from play, helping to create the shooting angle for Fulham’s only goal of the game.
Defensively, Carvalho fulfils roles as either the attacking midfielder in Fulham’s high press (4-2-3-1), or as a striker in Fulham’s 4-4-2 block. Pressing wise, he presses intelligently not just aggressively and is very effective at creating pressing traps. One example of this is how he sets up Fulham’s counter-press off long-balls, where Carvalho will look to run past the aerial duel and block off the passing lanes to the opposition centre backs, forcing the opposing ball-carrier to play forwards into a congested area. Another example would come from him backpressing fullbacks, whereby keeping the nearside centre back in his cover- shadow he can force the opposition into a wide pressing trap. He also has a nice habit of tackling off a players blindside, however he isn’t an assertive ball-winner and can be relatively easily outmuscled in 50/50’s, though this is slightly perpetuated by the championship’s physicality.
It’ll be interesting to see how Carvalho’s career develops in the following seasons. Marco Silva’s style of play so far has aligned very well with his strengths as a player, and with rumours of him potentially signing a new contract at Fulham, it would do him no harm to continue at Craven Cottage for the coming years. It was a big surprise to those who follow the championship to see him not included in England’s most recent U21’s squad, however, should his form continue a call-up is inevitable. As a summary, Carvalho is a low-usage no.10, not a player capable of handling a sides creative burden, but one who is still highly effective, nonetheless. As for a playstyle comparison, he could be likened to a mix between Emile Smith Rowe and Donny Van de Beek (at Ajax), with the high levels of technical proficiency of the former and the goalscoring ability of the latter. As seen in the title of this article, his ambitions are sky-high and he says himself that he aims to be in Ballon D’or contention in the next few years, so Fabio Carvalho is definitely one to keep an eye on.