How the return of Stefan Bajcetic can aid Liverpool's end of season charge

Yash Shah
3 months ago

With key midfielders either injured or out of form last season, Jurgen Klopp turned to the academy, as he often does.

Stefan Bajcetic rose to this challenge and nailed down a starting place ahead of more senior players. It was incredible to watch a youngster with no senior experience at the start of the season look so comfortable playing in the Champions League against the likes of Real Madrid.

However, Bajcetic’s meteoric rise was disrupted after he suffered multiple injury setbacks that have kept him out of action for almost a year - bar two appearances earlier this term. His Estimated Transfer Value (ETV) peaked at €17.5 million when he broke through in the middle of 2023, but a long layoff has seen it decline sharply, currently sitting at €6.8 million.

With the belief that he can go on to have a bright future at Anfield, the club has tied him to a long-term contract until 2027.

The 19-year-old is now back in training and undergoing what the manager has described as his own ‘pre-season’ to make him physically ready for competitive football.

Let’s examine what Liverpool will gain with the return of the midfielder.

What does Stefan Bajcetic bring to the side?

The teenager came into the Reds' midfield at a time when Fabinho was struggling defensively.

During the 500+ minutes of Premier League football he played over the course of the 2022/23 campaign, Bajcetic was tenacious in his duels and challenged the most dribblers (4.6) and won the most aerial duels (1.5) per 90 among Liverpool’s midfielders.

He consistently took up the right positions in the middle of the park and made 1.55 interceptions, blocked 1.21 passes and recovered 6.9 loose balls per 90. 

Stefan Bajcetic Liverpool

Stefan Bajcetic Liverpool

Bajcetic appears to have bulked up during his recovery, which when combined with his 1.85 metre frame and long legs makes him a formidable holding midfielder.

He is also slick on the ball, offering technical security in possession and displaying the ability to turn both ways under pressure. While his 44 passes per 90 may not seem impressive, he has shown the attributes to become a high-volume passer in the future.

Moreover, the Spanish U21 international is capable of breaking lines with his carries, completing 1.21 successful take-ons per 90, with 0.34 of those leading to a shot attempt - another leading figure among midfielders in the squad last season.

This versatility can see him step in as one of two advanced midfielders with great impact. 

What is Stefan Bajcetic’s best role?

Academy players initially earn their first-team minutes by playing bit-part roles and filling in where required. Bajcetic has seen playing time as both the deepest midfielder and in a more advanced box-to-box role.

While he stood out in both positions, the midfield that he will be coming into now looks completely different from last season. Klopp’s rebuild has seen the departures of Fabinho, James Milner, Jordan Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita.

Bajcetic will now have to compete with Wataru Endo, Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai, who have nailed down a starting place in a new-look midfield that has helped the Reds sit joint top of the table. The likes of Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott and Ryan Gravenberch will also be vying for game time.

The Spaniard boasts a solid profile as a No.6. He  can receive under pressure, execute crisp passes with both feet and possesses the physical attributes to win both ground and aerial duels. Compared to Endo’s numbers from this season, Bajcetic made more recoveries and interceptions, and won a higher percentage of his aerial duels.

However, there are doubts about whether he can perform at a high enough level for a team challenging on all fronts.

Bajcetic’s most impressive outing came when he was deployed on the left side of a midfield three against Everton. Klopp was so impressed with him in this advanced role that he continued to play him there until his injury.

The Celta Vigo youth product can be very useful as one of the more conservative No.8s in the current system. He can cover a lot of ground, aid in the build-up and also nullify any counter-attacks.

His offensive output is something that he needs to work on, but with age on his side, he should grow in this area.

In all likelihood, he will be used to fill both positions as and when needed. After a long layoff, the task is for him to build up momentum in whatever game time he gets before pushing on for a starting place.

Klopp will be eagerly waiting for Bajcetic to pick up where he left off, so he can contribute to the run-in and head into the new season under the new manager in the best possible way.

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