Is Tyler Morton the Forgotten Man in Liverpool’s Midfield Rebuild?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MARCH 02: Tyler Morton of Liverpool during the Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Liverpool and Norwich City at Anfield on March 02, 2022 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey - Danehouse/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MARCH 02: Tyler Morton of Liverpool during the Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Liverpool and Norwich City at Anfield on March 02, 2022 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey - Danehouse/Getty Images) /

Much has been made of Liverpool’s need to rebuild its midfield ahead of the 2023-24 Premier League campaign.

It began early with the signing of World Cup-winner Alexis Mac Allister from Brighton & Hove Albion, and he was joined by Hungary international Dominik Szoboszlai from Red Bull Leipzig at the start of July.

With the potential looming exit of Jordan Henderson to Al Ettifaq, as reported by The Athletic’s David Ornstein, and with Fabinho possibly becoming the latest big name to join Al Ittihad, per Fabrizio Romano, the need for new blood is increasingly obvious.

Arguably since the exit of Georginio Wijnaldum in 2021, things haven’t been quite right in the middle of the park.

Wijnaldum’s impact might not have really been felt by fans until after his departure from the club. While many rued his many missed chances, and perhaps he didn’t deliver as many goals for the Reds as his spell with Newcastle United promised, his energy and industry were crucial to the way Jürgen Klopp’s system functioned.

The arrival of Thiago Alcântara brought a genuinely world class talent to Anfield, but his injury troubles and his slightly awkward fit still made Wijnaldum a genuine loss.

Many solutions have been trialed in the meantime, but coupled with the decline of both Henderson and, most surprisingly, Fabinho, nothing has really worked.

The brightest signs, ignoring the incomings ahead of 2023-24, have been in youth talent. Stefan Bajcetic was a revelation last season, and Curtis Jones’ frustrating season showed some promise towards the end of the campaign—including a starring role at the Under-21 European Championships where he won the title with England.

But while out of sight at Blackburn Rovers, some fans may have put Tyler Morton out of mind.

While on loan in Lancashire last season, Morton racked up 40 Championship appearances in central midfield, adding a couple of assists for good measure. The now-20-year-old stepped up in place of Fabinho in 2021-22, registering nine first-team appearances and receiving calls to fully replace the Brazilian in Klopp’s XI.

That may have been too enthusiastic, but he showed plenty of encouraging signs, boasting confident ball retention, a football brain beyond his then-teenage years, and the desire to put a shift in.

Now after a full year of first-team football, could Morton force his way into the reckoning for the Reds?

In Morton’s absence, Bajcetic was the latest to earn clamor from the Kop to replace Fabinho at the base of Liverpool’s midfield three. He displayed a number of similar qualities to Morton in his first-team appearances, although, arguably at a higher level than the lad from Wallasey. He made 11 appearances and even notched a Premier League goal against Aston Villa.

Morton made two Champions League appearances against Porto and AC Milan when qualification had already been guaranteed, although he played 90 minutes in each, while Bajcetic featured against Ajax twice, Napoli and for 85 minutes in the last-16 first leg loss to Real Madrid.

A higher caliber of opposition in more trying circumstances, for sure, but Morton played the full match in two games against excellent squads from the continent.

So let’s consider Morton’s career steps so far to predict his future role. When Liverpool signed Harvey Elliott as a 16-year-old, he went on to make nine first-team appearances across the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons before a season-long loan with Blackburn in 2021-22. He made 42 appearances for Rovers before returning to Merseyside and entering the first team picture.

Morton might be looking at a similar trajectory. With Bajcetic making a handful of appearances and suffering a season-ending injury to scupper the remainder of his campaign, maybe the Spain under-18 star will head out on his own loan to get a better experience of men’s football. Morton, meanwhile, could step into a back-up midfield role.

Liverpool’s signings of Mac Allister and Szoboszlai address very different areas of the midfield triumvirate, and, as it stands, Morton is the only true backup to Fabinho other than Bajcetic.

Henderson and Thiago can also play in that No. 6 role, but the former might soon be out the door, and the latter arguably thrives in a slightly more advanced role where his focus is on unlocking defenses rather than stifling attacks.

If Liverpool lost both Henderson and Fabinho, it would be assumed another signing would be brought in. Romeo Lavia and Khephren Thuram have both been linked, per the Daily Mail. But with the squad as it stands, perhaps Morton assumes that No. 6 role while Bajcetic gains some much-needed minutes.

Klopp has also been cautious with injury returns for young players, so perhaps Bajcetic needs a little more time to recover. Morton is recovering from a foot fracture himself, and he’s not yet been seen in preseason training, but he’s less likely to be wrapped up in cotton wool by Klopp upon his return because of his age and first-team experience, so he may yet be thrown back in at the deep end.

Morton could step up again in the first XI, even if as a back-up to a new recruit. If he doesn’t replicate the form he showed in the Championship and in his brief tenure with the Liverpool first team, maybe he will be pointed towards the exit at the end of the season, clearing the path for Bajcetic—who would have had a full season under his belt away from the spotlight.

With all the promising new arrivals and the hint of a shiny new midfield—and this is not even considering the possibility of Trent Alexander-Arnold moving to a more central role—Morton’s future might be the most intriguing come the start of the new Premier League season.

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