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Why Bajcetic’s is key to Liverpool midfield rebuild 



Why Bajcetic’s us key to Liverpool midfield rebuild

While Bajcetic’s man-of-the-match display in Monday’s Merseyside derby may have surprised some neutral observers, it would not have shocked his team-mates – Mohamed Salah says he has been Liverpool’s best player since breaking into the team this year – or those who have been closely monitoring the start of his Reds career.

The Spaniard joined the club from Celta Vigo’s youth academy aged 16 in February 2021 for €250,000 as Liverpool beat Manchester United to his signature, and after impressing as a centre back for the U18s and U23s, he was called up for the first team’s pre-season tour of Asia and Austria last summer.

Bajcetic – who comes from footballing stock with his dad, Srdan, having played in midfield for the likes of Celta and Red Star Belgrade – was an unused substitute in Liverpool’s Premier League opener at Fulham in August, the same month he extended his contract at Anfield, before coming off the bench to make his debut with 20 minutes to go in a 9-0 win over Bournemouth.

Other landmarks soon followed as Bajcetic became the Reds’ youngest Champions League performer after featuring against Ajax in September, while he started his first game as a holding midfielder in the League Cup third-round win over Derby County in November.

However, the Spain U18 international really made people sit up and take notice when scoring his first Reds goal in just his seventh appearance to help seal a 3-1 win at Aston Villa on Boxing Day, the third-youngest player to score for the club in the Premier League.

And what a strike it was, too. Only on the pitch two minutes, Bajcetic showed quick feet in a tight space to outwit Villa’s World Cup-winning goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, before calmly rolling the ball through Tyrone Mings’ legs on the line.

“He’s cheeky as hell and he is not worried about anything,” was Klopp’s assessment of Bajcetic’s display that night at Villa Park. “He just plays football and he can do that exceptionally well.

“He had a football-playing father, so the genes are there, but also the attitude, awareness and match intelligence.”

The youngster really got his chance, though, as a result of Liverpool’s struggles at the turn of the year as Klopp reacted to back-to-back league defeats at Brentford and Brighton and Hove Albion by making drastic changes in midfield.

As a result, Bajcetic – who signed a new long-term deal in January – started Liverpool’s FA Cup third-round replay victory at Wolves in mid-January, then kept his place for the visit of Chelsea a few days later as he made his first league start for the club – more than holding his own against star-studded opponents.

With each passing game, his displays have grown in authority, so much so that his manager even felt confident enough to try his young charge out in an unfamiliar No 8 position against Everton following Thiago Alcantara’s hip-flexor injury in training last week.

The results were startling to see as Bajcetic took to the new role like a duck to water, with Klopp beaming when subsequently quizzed on him, no doubt thinking about the various options the versatile youngster now gives him in midfield going forward this season.

Stefan played exceptional and not because he’s 18, but because he’s exceptional,” said the German of his performance on Monday, with another positive being Fabinho’s most accomplished display in a long time, no doubt helped by having the energetic youngster alongside him.

Born in Vigo to a Serbian father and a Galician mother, Bajcetic’s mixed background may partly explain his versatility, according to Klopp.

“A top player”, the Liverpool boss said in Friday’s press conference. “It’s a joy to work with him. The mix of Serbia and Spain is good for his football. He’s an intelligent boy. Interesting that his dad and Thiago’s dad (Mazinho, a 1994 World Cup winner with Brazil) played together (in Vigo). Thiago took him under his wing. An absolute joy.”

In particular, it was his all-round composure and maturity beyond his years in the red-hot atmosphere of a Merseyside derby which really meant something to both rivals that impressed the most, especially when – socks rolled down to his ankles – taking the ball under pressure in a way reminiscent of Gini Wijnaldum during his time at Anfield

There is no doubt Liverpool have badly missed the under-rated Netherlands midfielder since his departure to Paris Saint-Germain in 2021, but looking ahead to this summer, if Bajcetic continues this rate of development, then FSG may just have saved themselves a shed load of money and the need to fill one less midfield position.

We know the Reds are set to lose the likes of James Milner, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain when their contracts expire at the end of the season, while even without their exits, this season has shown Klopp that it is time to start dismantling his preferred midfield trio of the last three years: Thiago, 31, Henderson, 32 and Fabinho, 29.

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