- Nationality: Spanish
- Age: 24
- Date of birth: 22/05/1996
- Current Club: Granada CF, on loan from Sevilla
- Career: Sevilla, Deportivo la Coruña (L), Granada CF (L)
- Position: Striker
- Secondary Position: 10 / Right Wing / Left Wing
- Preferred foot: Left
Having spent the first few years of his career on the fringes of first team football or playing for youth development sides, Sevilla youth product Carlos Fernandez burst onto the scene in senior Spanish football last season following his loan move to Deportivo La Coruña in the second division. This season he has followed that productive loan spell with another string of impressive displays, this time in La Liga whilst on loan at Granada.
The former Spain Under-21 international scored eight goals in 22 starts in the second division as Deportivo finished sixth and so far this season he has played a key role in Granada’s success, finding the back of the net on seven occasions as they sit in ninth in the Spanish top tier. Having impressed with Sevilla’s second string prior to his loan moves, the club’s hierarchy will have an interesting decision to make come the end of the season on whether he will play a part with his boyhood club next term or whether he should be loaned out once again, or even sold whilst his market value is high.
The 24 year old has a good level of pedigree and was part of the Spain under-19 squad that won the U-19 European Championship in 2015 alongside the likes of Rodri, Asensio, Merino and Ceballos, and was part of the national under-21 side that won the European Championships last summer. He also revealed that he had been named in a preliminary squad for the senior national team, prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 bringing proceedings to an abrupt pause. He was prolific at times for Sevilla’s development sides, despite having to battle back to full fitness following an injury that saw him miss almost the entirety of the 2016/17 season. Fernandez cuts a determined figure out on the pitch, it seems he has worked hard for his chance in La Liga and has impressed in his breakout season at the top level in Spain.
Fernandez is an intriguing player whose style perhaps doesn’t really conform to the traditional roles and attributes that are associated with the positions he plays. He is capable of playing both as an out and out striker or in a deeper role playing off a more natural number 9 as a second striker. The 6’1 forward has played in both positions for Granada this campaign and has been a success for Los Rojiblancos, scoring ten goals and making three assists in all competitions thus far. His performances over the last two seasons are sure to have caught the attention of onlooking parties and it will be interesting to see where he will be playing his football next season.
Standing at 6’1 and with an athletic build, Fernandez is both an aerial and physical presence for his team. He is able to leap high to challenge for headers and has the strength to take on defenders in ground duels and hold up the ball. He does not have a particularly strong build but uses his body well and also possesses a good burst of pace to get in front of opposition players or make runs off his teammates. This burst of pace combines well with his fairly quick change in direction to make him dangerous in the final third. The forward has played over 5000 minutes of league football over the last three seasons, showing good energy and stamina levels, whilst appearing to have recovered excellently from the cruciate ligament injury he suffered in 2016.
Despite his build appearing to be almost lanky, Fernandez possesses some fine technical qualities that make him a different threat to defences than a traditional number 9. He has the skill and pace to drop deep and turn to take on his man which means that its difficult for defenders to either stick tight to him or drop off. He has attempted 1.96 dribbles per 90 this season with a 59.5% success rate which puts him in the 66th percentile for forwards in the top five leagues. However, his first touch does vary greatly at times, letting the ball get away from him which can result in losing possession for his team (2.8 miscontrols per 90) and this is an area of his game in which he needs to become more consistent, especially if playing in a system that values possession more than Granada’s.
As you can see, similarly to his first touch, Fernandez’s passing is also quite inconsistent and is not the strongest part of his game. Fernandez is not the most creative of players in the final third and for Granada this season. His job has been to either hold up the ball and bring the midfielders or wingers into play, or to win flick-ons for his forward partner. His level of vision is adequate but more that of a striker than attacking midfield player and he needs to improve his ball retention in order to be effective as an out and out striker, with a pass completion rate of just 62.1% this season. Having said that, he has outperformed his expected assists so far this campaign, setting up teammates on three separate occasions in La Liga.
Fernandez comes alive in the final third and penalty area when he sees there is an opportunity for him to latch onto a cross, pass or loose ball and, as can be seen on his radar, the Spaniard has been clinical in front of goal this season. Over a fifth (21.2%) of his shots have found the back of the net, putting him in the 94th and 85th percentiles for non-penalty expected goals per shot and conversion rate respectively. This deadly streak in front of goal makes him a real asset for Granada, especially as he has played only half of his games for them as a out and out striker, and in his role as a second striker he is able to provide a direct goal threat from slightly deeper areas of the pitch. He is an instinctive finisher, who keeps his cool in front of goal in order to calmly slot past the goalkeeper and this is a valuable attribute amongst young forwards.
In the above example, Fernandez is very clever with his run but he also shows great composure and technique with the finish, to keep his cool and slot the ball into the net. Young strikers often tend to try and hit the ball with power in these types of situations but he just uses the pace that was already on the pass to guide it past the keeper.
He is predominantly left footed and uses his stronger foot whenever possible, making over 70% of his attempted passes with his left foot, and actually even attempting more passes with his head (63) this season than with his weaker right foot (60). I have yet to see this left footed bias hinder his game, as he plays a more central role and so is often able to easily manoeuvre the ball onto his stronger foot. On the whole, Fernandez is capable of providing a real threat to the opposition and is clinical in front of goal, but needs to improve on the consistency of his ball retention in midfield areas to make him even more effective as a forward.
Fernandez seems to be a tactically intelligent player, his positioning and movement when making runs are two of his most effective attributes in the final third. This is why he has been used as a second striker for much of the season, as although he is capable of playing as the primary striker, he is lethal when making delayed runs off the back of the number 9 from deeper areas. When the ball is in wide areas, he frequently pulls out to the edge of the box, allowing the defenders to become occupied with the run of the main striker, and then he makes a late run into space in the box where he can receive the ball. This type of movement makes him so hard to defend against as the defenders feel unable to leave the defensive line and mark him, whilst the midfielders are rarely in a position to track his run.
The examples above show a tactic that Granada have clearly worked on this season, where the first run of the main striker draws the attention of the central defenders whilst the player crossing the ball instead looks for the delayed run of Fernandez who is arriving into dangerous areas in the 18 yard box. These clearly display Fernandez’s movement in the final third and how it can be a real threat to opposition defences.
His movement into the penalty area is explicitly demonstrated by his shot map that shows where he takes his shot from and the positions from where he has scored his goals for Granada. The vast majority of his efforts come from around the penalty spot or six yard box, the spaces into which he has made a late run to occupy and attack the ball unmarked. Another interesting point to note on this map is that that almost all of his attempts come from within the width of the goal, illustrating that he attacks the right areas and has a poachers’s instinct in the penalty area, always looking to occupy positions from which he has the best chance of scoring. However, just like the very best of strikers, he has missed a couple of good opportunities throughout the season.
In deeper areas his positioning is also impressive, although he doesn’t have a tremendous success rate in the air (Only winning just over a third of his duels) he challenges for 8.57 headers per 90, as he is the target of the majority of Granada’s long balls. This is where he plays a different role to most second strikers, as it is his job to win long passes in the middle third and bring more creative players into play, and then whilst his team advances into the final third, he makes late supporting runs into dangerous zones.
Fernandez has partnered veteran striker Roberto Soldado for long periods of the season and is by far the more athletic of the two and so he does most of the running and challenges for headers whilst Soldado’s role is more of a traditional poacher who looks to get in the box and occupy defenders to free up space for others. When playing as an out and out striker Fernandez can be effective but from the matches I have watched he has seemed to be less threatening due to having the full attention of the defenders instead of being able to ghost into the box from deeper areas.
He is capable of playing as the main striker, and when in this role he frequently looks to use his burst of acceleration and athleticism to run off the shoulder of the defender and get in behind. This example shows Fernandez doing just that, looking to make runs in behind to vertically stretch the opposition defence on the counter attack.
Once his first touch has gotten the ball under control, Fernandez is capable of using his body well to protect the ball and draw fouls out of the opposition. His lanky stature allows him to win fouls and hold up the play which can play an important role for his team when they are trying to progress up the pitch. Generally he is very aware of his surroundings and looks to pin defenders or get a leap on them by making sure he has a run up to challenge for the ball. His awareness of where space is available in the box and the timing of his runs make him dangerous in the final third.
Defensively he can also play an essential role when his team is pressing which sees him cause turnovers or force opposition players into mistakes. Fernandez ranks in the 82nd percentile for successful pressures, clearly demonstrating his defensive output, whilst 38.9% of these pressures occur in the attacking third of the pitch which perhaps means that he can be effective in a high pressing system. Furthermore, from watching him you can see that he cuts passing lanes effectively when closing down defenders and is strong in the tackle when battling to regain possession. The example below shows how Fernandez can be effective when pressing by triggering his team to step up and force the play backwards.
Overall, the 24 year old can be tactically effective in both attacking and defensive phases of play, with his movement and timing in the final third causing problems for the defence, whilst he presses effectively when his team doesn’t have possession.
A significant reason why I believe Fernandez is capable of being an instrumental figure for whichever team he is playing for over the coming seasons is his mindset and mentality. When watching him play it is clear that he is a real nuisance to defend against, his work rate and determination to chase down loose balls or press defenders mean that the opposition players always have to be checking their shoulders and have little time to settle on the ball. He has recovered 5.3 loose balls per 90 for his team this season, and this coupled with his number of successful pressures illustrate what a key role he has in regaining the ball for his team.
Another reason he is can be hard to play against is his aggression and his willingness to get in the face of the defenders and commit to aerial duels and challenges. Fernandez seems to enjoy the physical aspects of the contests and likes to put his weight about and make life uncomfortable for the opposition – in this regard he is very much a traditional number 9. However, this aggression can cross the line at times and land him in trouble as the Spaniard has received 7 yellow cards this season and commits 2.6 fouls per 90. Yet this aggressive streak and willingness to fight for his team are what make him such a valuable asset at times.
In possession, he could look to improve upon his decision making ability when picking a pass, sometimes trying to do too much with the ball rather than making a backwards or sideways pass that would retain the ball. On the other hand, in the final third the forward seems confident in his ability and has generally shown great composure in front of goal to find the back of the net when chances do fall his way.
At 24, Fernandez has some interesting decisions ahead of him once the La Liga season comes to an end. He is due to return to Sevilla, where he is under contract until the summer of 2022, following the completion of what has been an impressive campaign with Granada. Having been on the books with his boyhood club Sevilla since 2012, you would imagine that he would jump at the opportunity to play a more prominent role in their first team squad next season.
However, with Luuk De Jong (29) currently the main striker, with three years left on his contract at 4th placed Sevilla and the winter arrival of forward Youssef En-Nesyri (23) it could mean that Fernandez will struggle to break into the first team lineup and may be forced to look elsewhere.
If another team does manage to secure his signing, they could have a real talent on their hands who is probably only a couple of years from entering his prime. Fernandez’s attributes would allow him to play in just about any of the major european leagues, although he does need to improve upon his ball retention at times. Personally I feel he could be well suited to the Premier League where we have seen aggressive forwards such as Diego Costa enjoy impressive stints in England, whilst his movement could be compared to that of players such as Ayoze Perez and he certainly possesses the physical assets required to compete.
System wise, he is perhaps better suited to a strike partnership or second striker role from where he is able to time his runs from deep and compliment a more out and out goalscorer. As demonstrated this season, he is capable of playing in a pressing system and as a target for more direct play. Yet there seems to be no reason why he would struggle to adapt to a different approach, having played in two different roles this term.
Carlos Fernandez was an intriguing player to watch as he has played an exciting role for Granada. His athletic attributes combined with his clinical finishing and clever movement into dangerous areas have made him a real threat for his loan club. He will have certainly caught the attention of clubs around Europe with his performances and if he can improve upon his passing and ball retention then there appears to be no reason why he can’t be a very effective player in years to come as his career develops.
Stats courtesy of Fbref and StatsBomb