Liverpool midfielder Fabinho Tavares has looked a shell of himself this season. Twelve months ago Fabinho was one of the best defensive midfielders in the world – but presently the Brazilian isn’t even the best in the squad.
At 29, the former ‘lighthouse’ at the base of the midfield looks to be suffering from seasons of intense football. Perhaps he will return to form, but in a struggling Liverpool team, it may be more sensible to look elsewhere.
Looking elsewhere may lead them to look at young academy graduate Tyler Morton, currently on loan at Blackburn Rovers.
The 20-year-old featured 9 times for the first team last season, leading Klopp to sanction a loan to the Championship to gain more experience at first team level. This plan seems to have worked, with Morton turning out for Rovers 34 times this season and having 4 assists to his name – as well as a lovely free-kick (above) when playing for the under-21’s.
His performances led to his parent club offering him a new contact in January that sees him commit his long-term future to his boyhood club. A new contract may be an indication that upon his return to Liverpool he would be a regular in the first team – much like Harvey Elliott who spent the 2020-21 season on loan at Blackburn.
I’m absolutely buzzing. The little dream is coming true, so I couldn’t be happier.Tyler Morton, speaking to liverpoolfc.com
Can Morton replace Fabinho?
According to transfermarkt.com, Tyler Morton has played 64% of his games this season at defensive midfield (DM), a clear indicator that Danish coach Jon Dahl Tomasson views his skill-set as being best suited to that role. Morton has admitted that he enjoys being in possession and progressing the play, but his numbers don’t exactly reflect this. Assesing his scouting report on fbref.com shows that he is playing around 3.98 progressive passes per 90. In comparison to Fabinho, who in his pomp was averaging around 4.35 per 90, this shows that Morton may not be as progressive as his own assessment would suggest.
However, comparing a 20-year-old with the best defensive-midfielder in the world in 2021 is a little unfair. So in the interest of fairness, I will look at how they both compare in the present day.
What does Morton need to do?
Out of Possession
The main roles of the DM in a Klopp team is to stop counter-attacks, recover loose balls and protect the back line. Fabinho has previously been the protector of the back line, allowing the gegenpress to be more effective with the space behind the press filled by the Brazilian.
But this season he is in the 68th percentile for ball recoveries, whereas Morton sits in the 81st percentile. Morton clearly has a knack for collecting the loose balls, which is a vital attribute at the top level.
Tyler Morton also wins 59.3% of his aerial duels, making him a useful tool in both penalty boxes from open play and set-pieces. If he can fill space that will otherwise be vacated by players pressing higher up the field, it will greatly benefit the teams chances of winning the midfield battle – something they have struggled to do this season.
Morton displays great defensive IQ, which is reflected in his 1.05 fouls committed per 90 – much lower than the 1.44 committed by Fabinho. His ability to avoid fouling is important as he fills a danger area, where any opposition set piece may result in a goal.
So, it’s clear his footballing brain is developing well in a defensive sense, and at 20-years-old it will only grow as he gains experience.
Reading the play and facilitating the press from deep is vital to the role, but there is a constant quality throughout the side. Every player in the squad needs to be able to play in tight areas, retain possession and have a variety of passes in their locker.
Morton’s range of passing this season has been great. Close to the 90th percentiles in short and medium pass completion percentage. He has a lower completion percentage at long range, but he does complete 7.22 per 90 – which puts him in the 96th percentile, meaning he will have no issue involving his teammates from anywhere on the field.
As well as his passing range, he is comfortable with the ball at his own feet. Morton averages 38.15 carries per 90 (90th percentile) – something that Fabinho is also good at with 40.44 per 90 himself. Morton would be comfortable to carry and play the ball, much like Fabinho has done throughout his time at the club.
The area Morton needs to focus on is his ball retention. He is currently dispossessed 0.74 times per 90 compared to Fabinho’s 0.43. This indicates a tendency to either overplay or take too long to make a decision. If Morton is to break into the side, he will need to lower that number.
So can Morton replace an out-of-form Fabinho?
Annoyingly, it is hard to say. The academy graduate is clearly a talented prospect and possesses the potential to be a mainstay in the first team, but he is still only 20-years-old and numbers in the Championship don’t always translate well into the top flight.
He is a capable ball player with good football IQ, being able to read the play and regain possession for his side. With Fabinho being in a decline and the club’s other midfielders seeming to follow suit, there has never been a better time to earn a place under Jurgen Klopp.
Morton will arrive back at the AXA Training Centre after his loan spell with hopes of breaking into the first team, and in my humble opinion, he is more than capable of holding down a spot at the base of the midfield.