What's been said about Liverpool's 'baby Fabinho' and why fans should be excited about the future of the midfield 🤩
Much has been made about the need for a new midfielder to address the gap left by Georginio Wijnaldum's exit
Liverpool’s midfield couldn’t have borne a more remarkable chasm between experience and promise unless James Milner had been swapped in for Thiago Alcantara alongside Tyler Morton before the first whistle had blown during the Reds’ meeting with FC Porto in the Champions League.
Spanish class married with Scouse potential.
One can only imagine the 19-year-old must have been shaking in anticipation of not only making his Champions League debut for his childhood club but also doing so alongside one of the game’s leading midfielders.
Coming up against Sérgio Conceição’s men in the latter end of the group stages with qualification all wrapped up comfortably, there was a palpable danger of Morton getting lost in the proceedings, not simply because of the possibility that he could shrink on the occasion but also due to the risk of his teammates not taking the tie completely seriously.
Indeed, though there was more than enough evidence in the first-half to indicate that Jurgen Klopp’s men were struggling to motivate themselves to meet the challenge in front of them, the starlet was one of the few on the pitch arguably in no need of a pep talk at the halfway mark.
Producing a range of vital interventions in and around the 18-yard-box, the central midfielder played a pivotal role in helping keep the scoreline level in what was a nail-biting first 45 for the Merseysiders as their Primeira Liga-based opponents squandered chance after chance.
A game Liverpool ‘could have lost’ was Klopp’s assessment of his team’s 2-0 victory at Anfield and not without good reason in light of a handful of clear-cut chances Porto had to potentially hand their hosts a mountain to climb in the second-half.
Football can be a funny old game, of course, with the Merseysiders capitalising on a moment of pure brilliance from a man whose name rarely features on the scoresheet - Thiago Alcantara.
The La Masia graduate posted one of his finest performances in the famous red shirt, being unfortunate to be denied an assist to his name following a near-perfectly timed through ball for Sadio Mané in the first-half.
Yet, it’s testament to just how exciting Morton’s opening performance in Europe’s premier competition was that the Academy graduate managed to steal some of the limelight that would have otherwise largely focused on the Spanish international.
[Tyler Morton demonstrated his passing range with a magnificent overhead ball in the buildup to Mohamed Salah’s lead-doubling effort]
No one should have been massively surprised by the teenager’s inclusion in the first-XI in the first place.
Just to get on the pitch alone is a huge compliment from Jurgen Klopp who’s not one to throw players on blindly unless he has full faith in their ability to perform on the day.
Beyond that, however, it was Thiago’s glowing review of his fellow midfielder that stood out from the praise heaped atop Morton’s shoulders by commentators and fans alike.
“I love to train and play alongside the young players to see their hunger and the starting point of their careers and giving them some teaching words to make their path brighter and better,” the No.6 told reporters after the game.
“It happened with Tyler, the first time he came I said, ‘Who is this player?’ because he trained amazing with us and he deserved to be part of the team tonight.
“He played an amazing game tonight and I think he’ll have a great career at Liverpool and in football in general, we’re happy to have him and to get to play with him tonight.”
The Fan Reaction
To get an idea of how well-received Morton’s Champions League debut was by the Liverpool fanbase, one would be well-advised to take a gander at fan footage from inside the Kop end.
A special moment for the player - as he admitted post-match - and, undoubtedly, his family, on the biggest stage in club football.
But let’s be honest: we all enjoy a proper good praise party for our young stars when they hit the ground running, and the general reaction to the No.80’s performance is certainly no different in that regard.
We’re with you there, Jack.
Patience (not silence) will be necessary
We’re constantly warned as fans of the danger of overhyping, of encouraging an Icarus-like self belief in youngsters lest their inflated egos send them floating too close to the sun before crashing and burning through the atmosphere on their way back down to Earth.
Yet, by that logic, if it can hurt a player’s development to big up their potential too much, how can it help to break them apart following a bad performance?
That’s not to name names or wag one’s finger disapprovingly at player ratings (they’re perfectly good fun to read for one and it’s important to balance praise with criticism where necessary).
[Ibrahima Konate got on the bad side of a number of match reviews following a less than commanding performance midweek]
However, there’s nothing inherently wrong with being excited by the potential on offer from a player like Tyler Morton.
More to the point, we should absolutely be celebrating the future when we consider what the middle of the park will be looking like once our more experienced members hang up their boots.
We got a sharp taste of development utopia with the introduction of Harvey Elliott early in the campaign, with the former Fulham Academy graduate taking his remarkable Championship form with Bristol Rovers into the Premier League with a swathe of mature appearances leading up to his severe ankle injury in early September.
Curtis Jones, likewise, has shown flashes of brilliance and what he could offer this Liverpool side going forward if he can build some consistency to his game.
Which brings us back to the topic of peaks and Liverpool’s ‘ageing midfield problem’.
We don’t mean that to sound sarcastic - the departure of Georginio Wijnaldum in the summer has left us feeling a little short-staffed at times already this campaign in central midfield.
That being said, if we are to consider The Athletic’s analysis with regard to the natural peak of central midfielders, we’re looking particularly well-placed for the future with three midfielders set to enter their peaks between the next four to six years (if we now include Tyler Morton, aged 19, within the equation).
Rather conveniently, Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara’s contracts are set to expire in the next three to five years, which would allow Liverpool to naturally integrate our young talents into the middle of the park as part of a gradual succession plan.
Two Academy graduates in Tyler Morton and Curtis Jones and a highly-rated prospect nabbed from Fulham but largely developed in Merseyside. That’s not bad going at all if it means we can avoid spending big on replacements for our long-term servants.
With Michael Edwards handing down the reins to Julian Ward and Pepijn Lijnders tipped as an option to succeed Jurgen Klopp, we’d be truly embodying the ‘Liverpool Way’ in every aspect of the club from top to bottom if the likes of Jones, Morton and Elliott can all play increasingly integral roles in the first-XI as time goes by.
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