When Liverpool completed the signing of Fábio Carvalho from Fulham in May 2022, hopes were high for the talented teenager.
A prodigious talent followed by almost every major team in Europe, almost fifty appearances under his belt for a team that was flying in the Championship, and reportedly a Liverpool fan, the signing made a lot of sense.
With Sadio Mané heading for the exit and Roberto Firmino entering what turned out to be his final year with the Reds, the reasoning seemed sound.
Following in the path forged by his long-time friend Harvey Elliott, the plan seemed clear: he would be given time to learn the Jürgen Klopp style of playing and would, sooner rather than later, be in the group of players trying to force their way into the first team.
Now, fast forward a year, and the Portuguese has just completed a season-long loan move to RB Leipzig after just 637 minutes of action across 21 mostly substitute appearances.
Fabio Carvalho scored on his RB Leipzig debut today! ⚽️
Go smash it in the Bundesliga, Fabio ❤️
So where did it all go wrong? Here, we take a look at the five main factors which worked against the youngster in his debut season.
Versatility is a virtue often sought out by the Liverpool scouts. And Carvalho seems to have this in his locker, as confirmed by Klopp, who said: “He can play so many different positions for us [...] the wing, the eight, the 10, the false nine if he grows a few more muscles.”
During his time with Fulham, he played rather successfully (12 goals, eight assists) across all of these positions. That said, the majority of his appearances came as a number 10 – and this is where the problem lies.
While Klopp frequently used the 4-2-3-1 system Marco Silva's Fulham favour during his time with Borussia Dortmund, with Liverpool, he has rarely deviated from a 4-3-3.
Playing on the left of a front three comes with different demands to playing on the left-hand side of midfield while, clearly, playing as one of two eights comes with greater defensive responsibilities than playing as a second striker. Plainly, Carvalho would have some adapting to do.
2. An underperforming team
Allowing a player, especially one that was 19 at the time, to learn on the job is a luxury very few teams can afford. Especially a team that was underperforming in the way that Liverpool were at the start of the 2022-23 season.
The fact that Carvalho featured at all in the build-up to the World Cup was as much to do with the midfield injury crisis the club was experiencing as it was his abilities.
With Thiago, Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Curtis Jones and Jordan Henderson all suffering injuries in the opening months of the campaign (not forgetting Darwin Núñez's suspension and Diogo Jota's absence too), Carvalho was thrust into the limelight perhaps ahead of schedule.
There were moments when he did well, for example scoring in the 7-0 demolition of Bournemouth and the winning goal against Newcastle in back-to-back games.
But, equally in that period, there was the 0-0 draw at Everton when he was hooked at half time.
But ultimately, when the going gets tough, you revert to the tried and tested (just ask Arthur Melo). So, when the injury crisis eased, but the performances didn't improve, it's not surprising that Klopp picked his trusted lieutenants more.
3. Physical demands
At just 1.70 metres (5ft 7in) and having only just turned 20, you can forgive Carvalho for not being ready for the physical demands of the Premier League just yet.
As we've seen, Klopp has alluded to his lack of physicality; the Everton draw was a clear example of him looking overwhelmed by the demands of the game.
Likewise, despite him scoring in the Carabao Cup fourth-round tie against Manchester City, with the team up against it, it's telling that it was Carvalho sacrificed again at the break.
4. Cody Gakpo's signing
When Cody Gakpo signed from PSV in the January transfer window, this pushed Carvalho even further down the pecking order in both the left-wing and centre-forward positions.
And with Gakpo taking to life with the Reds like a duck to water, Carvalho's case for a place in the team was even further diminished.
5. The re-emergence of Curtis Jones
Liverpool's uptick in form in the final third of the season can be attributed in no small part to the re-emergence of Curtis Jones as a first-team option.
The Scouser started all of Liverpool's last 11 games - a run in which the Reds went unbeaten and started to play with their new box midfield shape.
On paper, this formation switch should have suited Carvalho. With two players now operating in an advanced midfield role, Jones' role, in theory, would have been a perfect fit for Carvalho.
However, Jones went on a fantastic run of form - his best since breaking into the first team - culminating in scoring the winning goal for England under-21s in the European Championship final, leaving Carvalho out of sight and out of mind.
What next for Carvalho?
After a difficult season for all concerned at Liverpool, it's no surprise that Carvalho struggled in his first year at the club.
Hopefully, now a year out of the limelight in the Bundesliga will give him a platform to showcase his talents regularly. He'll be operating at the highest level, in one of Europe's Top 5 leagues and in the Champions League, in a side that plays a similar high-intensity style as the Reds.
With any luck, this loan will give his body the chance to adapt to what's required to succeed at Liverpool in the long run.