Aaron Morley is a deep-lying defensive midfielder for Rochdale who has good awareness and reading of the game. A midfielder who was in his debut year as a scholar at the club, before signing his first professional contract after reaching his 17th birthday. He has since penned a new deal with the club that will keep him at the Crown Oil Arena until 2022.
He made his senior debut in the Checkatrade Trophy against Notts County in the 2016/17 season and his league bow against Southend four days later. He also started in Rochdale’s shock 1-1 draw with Man United in 18/19, netting his penalty in the decisive shootout.
Standing at 5 foot 8 (1,79m) Morley is a physically strong player who is capable of battling in the midfield, he likes to sit back in possession and shows a variety of passing abilities.
He played 50 matches in the 20/21 season, 44 of which in EFL League One, starting 39/44. He has played a total of 95 games across his short career having a good amount of senior football under his belt.
Morley is a central defensive midfielder who supports the defence when playing out from the back.
Morley has played the majority of games this season as a CDM in a variety of formations such as 4-5-1, 4-4-2 and 3-5-2, capable of playing as a single pivot or part of a partnership.
He works hard to support the team in possession and has good vision and awareness of his teammates around him. He is a reliable option who keeps the ball well and is capable of breaking lines with his forward passes.
Here, we compare Morley to an EFL player that caught our eye last season – Alex Mowatt of Barnsley who has since moved to WBA.
Morley matches up very similar to Mowatt in defensive actions and attacking & creativity in statistical comparison. Although he doesn’t match on pass accuracy, forward pass accuracy and passes per 90, but this could be down to Rochdale’s controlling of the ball throughout the League One season. This is a stat that is likely to increase should he play as part of a team controlling more of the ball, something which could happen to Rochdale due to their relegation to League 2.
Defensively Morley averages per game: 8 challenges (53% won), 2.3 aerial challenges (53% won), 2.9 tackles, 4.9 interceptions and 5.2 ball recoveries.
Morley has an impressive statistic average in terms of aerial challenges won as he stands at 5 foot 8, he’s physically strong and is tough in the tackle. Morley doesn’t seem to have that burst of acceleration or speed off the mark and occasionally struggles if the ball is knocked past him allowing the attacker to run at the defence, but he makes up for this in good defensive positioning and timing of the tackle.
He has also been deployed as an LCB in a back 3 when facing Doncaster Rovers which shows faith in his defensive ability and enough physical ability to fit the role.
Morley showed frequently the quality to bring the ball down and play on the floor with as little as one or two touches, often seen when claiming the second ball. He seems to know what he wants to do with the ball before receiving it and has a good awareness of where his teammates are in the transitional phase.
Also showing good ball control and dribbling ability Morley can play with one or two touches allowing Rochdale to transition from defence to attack efficiently when winning the ball back.
In the attacking phase, Morley is effective at breaking lines with his passes and has good vision to pick out teammates in attacking areas. He is also Rochdale’s corner and set-piece taker, he is a great passer of the ball and is capable of delivering good balls into the box. He is more of a deeper-lying player who links the play between defence & midfield, midfield & attack.
As mentioned in the transitional phase he is good at playing with minimal touches and releases the ball quickly to attacking players. He scored 3 goals in the 20/21 season and got 6 assists, adding to his total of 8 goals and 11 assists across his senior career. He also scored a goal nominated for the LFE Goal of the Month in May 2018 (youth football).
Morley is a stocky player who has the physical capacity to compete in the midfield, he does not have the burst of acceleration a winger would have but uses his body well in the defensive phase. Strong in the challenge and experienced at League One level Morley has the physicality required to win battles in midfield. His physicality and defensive position helps compensate for what he doesn’t have in acceleration.
In conclusion, Morley looks a very well-rounded midfielder who has much more experience at senior level than your average 21-year-old. There is still plenty of time for him to develop and he seems to have natural ability in his ball control, awareness, and vision.
There is a look of maturity to his game as he keeps it simple and works hard for the team looking to support in all phases of play. With Rochdale’s relegation to League 2, Morley could prove excellent value for money with lots of room to develop.
Current tier: League One
Future tier: Championship