Following a very long and extremely worrying transfer saga, Philippe Coutinho left Liverpool to join Barcelona in January 2018, despite the best efforts from everyone connected to the club to convince him to give the move up and stay put for the revolution that was about to unfold under Jurgen Klopp.

Liverpool, however, reinvested the money they got wisely, signing defender Virgil van Dijk in the same window, as well as goalkeeper Alisson Becker and midfielder Fabinho the following summer – right after reaching the Champions League final. The rest, as they say, is history, and perhaps it wasn’t so for Coutinho, but the Merseysiders never looked back.

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For a long time there was talk about replacing the Brazilian playmaker, who liked the roaming No. 10 role the most but was also very efficient on the left side of attack. But Klopp, as it turned out, didn’t think that way at all and Liverpool never signed a player of similar characteristics since.

Enter Fabio Carvalho.

Coutinho was actually two years older than Carvalho is now when he arrived at Anfield, back in January 2013. His talent was notable at once; he was capable of moments of magic when inspired, but it took a long time and a specific set of circumstances for him to reach the sufficient level of maturity for those moments to become a regular occurrence. On the way to the heights he eventually reached, he was known to disappear from games from time to time, and this trait of his even got him described as a ‘magician with a vanishing act’ by some among the supporters.

Carvalho seems to be in a similar phase now. Liverpool signed him on the back of a season where he made a total of 38 appearances in all competitions for Fulham, scoring 11 goals and providing eight assists as the Cottagers fought their way back to the Premier League. He played mostly as a No. 10, occasionally moving deeper into the middle of the park to create from there, and sometimes being deployed on the left side of the attacking line.

The 19-year-old is not only similar to Coutinho in terms of the positions he plays, but also in terms of skill and style, as he likes to drift past opponents before sliding in a defence-splitting pass or having a go from range. He also appears just as raw as Coutinho was in 2013, and has been known to spend a lot of time on the pitch with onlookers barely realizing he was there.

Nonetheless, the 19-year-old was relatively quick to adapt to the demands of the Championship while at Fulham, and his game-time increased as the 2021/22 season progressed. Of the last 22 matches in the English second tier, he completed the full 90 minutes 19 times.

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History, however, shows that players don’t necessarily shine in the Premier League as much as in the Championship straight after making the transition. There have been examples of players, particularly at Klopp’s Liverpool, who joined from other top-tier leagues and still took time to get where the German tactician wanted them to come. The most notable case was Fabinho, whom some of the media were far too quick to write off as a ‘flop’ as he slowly made his way into the regular starting XI. Today, of course, it makes a huge difference for Liverpool whether the Brazilian defensive midfielder plays or not, and it’s likely to prove the same with Carvalho at some point.

Much will, of course, depend on the way Klopp chooses to set his team up from this point on. So far, he has preferred a 4-3-3 shape with a ‘false nine’ upfront, to allow players like Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane to charge goalwards from the flanks. Roberto Firmino did the job admirably for years, but the acquisition of Darwin Nunez, with all his makings of a proper centre-forward as Klopp himself has described him, seems to indicate a possible shift to a 4-2-3-1. In such a system, Carvalho could play on the left or directly behind the striker, but even if the change happens, the likes of Firmino through the middle and Luis Diaz on the left are likely to be ahead of him in the pecking order.

So where does it leave Carvalho?

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For a fee of around £5 million, the young Portuguese represents a low-risk investment for Liverpool, looking strictly through the financial side of things. Nonetheless, Carvalho definitely has what it takes to become a proper star at Anfield, and if fitness serves him the way every athlete hopes it does and he remains patient, there’s every chance he’ll be making a big impact in the famous Red shirt. 

He’s also likely to get plenty of time to prove himself during the upcoming season, with the World Cup placed in the middle of it and the club likely to be involved and determined on all four fronts again. There will be plenty of tired legs for him to replace, and like any other player of his age at a top club, he must make sure he takes every chance he’s given.

All in all, it’s not very likely that Liverpool will depend overmuch on Carvalho and his form, talent or quality, at least not for a while. But when his moment comes, if he’s ready, the opposition he takes on better be ready too or they could find themselves facing something they aren’t able to handle.

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