Speaking in an exclusive interview with SPORT, former Celta Vigo manager Carlos Carvalhal has backed Barcelona youngster Lamine Yamal to ‘reach the level of Kylian Mbappe’.
Barcelona are set to take on FC Porto in their second Group H encounter of the 2023/24 UEFA Champions League on Wednesday night.
Ahead of their trip to Portugal, SPORT caught up with Carvalhal, who had a stint at FC Porto as a player and faced Barça as the manager of Celta Vigo last season.
Of the many topics that he discussed during the interview, Lamine Yamal was one, with Carvalhal claiming that the 16-year-old’s breakthrough reminds him of Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson.
“When he starts he does very well and when he gets ten minutes, he does too. It reminds me of Cristiano Ronaldo’s process with Ferguson at Manchester United. This is a very important process for his growth and Xavi is doing a phenomenal job,” he said.
“He has tremendous potential and, if he continues like this, he’s going to be at Mbappé’s level,” Carvalhal added.
However, he did urge that Yamal should be managed carefully, saying: “Beware of young players and the path they take, although it doesn’t seem to be the case with Lamine. He is at a club that knows how to take care of its players, knows how to manage them.”
On Barcelona under Xavi
Carvalhal was asked if there was anything different about Barcelona between last season and this season, he pointed out the defensive problems, citing the absence of Sergio Busquets as a major point.
“The reality is that Barça have a great team, with their own identity, and a great coach. When we talk about Barça, we talk about Xavi,” he stated.
“Maybe last year they were more consistent defensively, but there have been some changes. Oriol is one thing and Busquets is another. In terms of attacking ability, they are very strong and they suffer a bit in defensive transition.”
Like Robert Moreno earlier today, Carvalhal also pointed out to the position of Joao Cancelo and how that leaves space defensively saying:
“Because it’s in a period of evolution. For example, in the position of the full-backs, which is always deep. Cancelo plays almost as a midfielder and spaces are created.”
When asked if this will lead to Barcelona suffering against Porto later this week, he replied: “Xavi is intelligent and Porto have Galeno on the left side, a very quick player.
“We’ll have to see if Cancelo plays inside or if the formation is going to respect a little more what the opposition does and, therefore, the starting positions. That’s something I’ll be watching closely to see if he’s going to be totally faithful to his identity.”
When asked who from the Barça camp could pose the biggest threat to Porto, Carvalhal replied: “Sergio [Conceicao, Porto manager] is going to be very attentive to Lewandowski, Joao Félix. And whoever plays on the right, where, after Raphinha’s injury.
“He has two options: Ferran and Lamine. Either of them can do damage because Barcelona move a lot to the left to free up space diagonally on the opposite side. And Porto can have problems with that.”
On Joao Felix and Joao Cancelo
Carvalhal then discussed in length about his compatriot and Joao Felix, stating how the 23-year-old was never a good fit for his parent club, Atletico Madrid.
“I have nothing against Atlético, who have a great coach, but it wasn’t a perfect match. His characteristics were for Barcelona or Manchester City. That was the way to go after Benfica,” the former Swansea City manager remarked.
“He has improved in some things, of course, but not to the point of extracting his full potential. Neither Atlético was comfortable with him nor he with Atlético.”
“I watched Barcelona’s first few games and they were missing some breakaways in the central area. Joao Felix can provide this added value, that’s where he makes a difference and Barcelona’s game grows,” he further added.
On the topic of Joao Cancelo, Carvalhal credited Pep Guardiola for the former’s development into one of the best right-backs in the game, saying:
“Pep Guardiola is to thank for that. He is one of the best right-backs in the world, a great winger, and he has done a master’s degree with Pep at City. Now he has the ability to react, to finish, to run forward, he knows how to make the last pass….”
“Xavi will also know how to make the most of the player, who will make the most of his potential at Barcelona.”