Stefan Bajčetić received a standing ovation from the Anfield terraces as he was substituted against Everton on February 13. The teenager was named as man of the match in his first ever Merseyside derby. He emanated maturity way beyond his years: a pillar of calmness, technique and dynamism that dictated proceedings from the middle of the park.
🎞️ #LIVEVE showreel 🎞️
Enjoy a brilliant Stefan Bajcetic display against Everton all over again 😍 pic.twitter.com/bRGv5c8jNA
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) February 15, 2023
The 18-year-old covered 11.14km of the Anfield pitch – more than any other player. In a pulsating, feverish and pressured city clash, the midfielder produced his best performance of the season. Bajčetić lined up in place of the injured Thiago, alongside Jordan Henderson and Fabinho – this ageing pair, who have lacked tenacity, welcomed Bajčetić’s imperious display.
Stefan Bajcetic’s game by numbers vs. Everton:
100% aerial duels won
10/12 final third passes completed
5 ball recoveries
4 ground duels won
3 long balls completed
2 key passes
Looked right at home in midfield tonight. 🏠 pic.twitter.com/S9ZwexjlM2
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) February 13, 2023
Liverpool are enduring a torrid season that has seen them floundering in mid-table but this latest result revealed the undeniable significance of a player who was only signed for £224,000 in December 2020 from his hometown club Celta Vigo in Galicia. Due to post-Brexit regulations at the beginning of 2021, it meant that clubs were prohibited from signing overseas players under the age of 18. Bajčetić, who was 16 at the time, was squeezed into Liverpool’s transfer plans after he was heralded as a formidable talent by academy director Alex Inglethorpe.
Bajčetić is widely regarded as one of Celta’s most impressive products from the academy. Alex Otera, youth football co-ordinator at Celta, told The Athletic: “He has amazing physical characteristics. He is extremely quick, makes good recoveries, has a great spring, is really impressive in the air and carries the ball cleanly out of defence.It was clear he was a standout player in his age group. He can help construct attacks but he is also noticeable for his ability to play on the right or left of the centre-backs. That is quite rare.”
His performances since his introduction to the Liverpool first team in August 2022 have been reminiscent of Thiago Alcantara’s early days – a quick and incisive passer with expert control. Thiago also grew up playing in Vigo for Galician team Ureca in Nigrán, and both made appearances for amateur side Val Minor two decades apart. When he replaced his fellow Spaniard in the Champions League group stage game against Ajax, he became Liverpool’s youngest-ever player to play in Europe – an endearing narrative for a player showing exceptional promise.
Bajčetić is also valued for his versatility. He has appeared for the under-18s and under-23s as a centre back, but after his string of impressive cameos as a defensive midfielder has meant it’s his cemented position. During their clash with Everton, Fabinho started as lone pivot and Henderson was the furthest midfielder forward.
Bajčetić acted as the balancing force between Liverpool’s midfield offensive and defensive actions – a box-to-box enforcer whose nimble frame, blended with his intoxicating energy, created a technically astute and commanding central midfield presence that Liverpool have desperately lacked so far this season. On the evidence of this performance, Bajčetić has staked a firm claim to regularly integrated into the squad and is directly challenging Fabinho for a starting spot.
The youngster has a far superior xA90 (sum of expected goals from a players key passes per 90), KP90 (passes that lead to shots per 90) and xGChain90 (total xG of ever phase of possession a player is involved in), which demonstrates that he has more input in attacking sequences due to his forward passing, allowing Liverpool to retain ascendancy and momentum. Although Bajčetić has only played 284 minutes, he has shown capability and enthusiasm in abundance. He could be the solution to revitalise Liverpool’s struggling midfield and underwhelming season.
The careers of Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Arthur Melo have been ravaged by injuries, whilst Fabinho and Henderson lack the athleticism to sustain Jurgen Klopp’s relentless pressing style of play. Liverpool require a consistent midfielder and have been endlessly linked with Jude Bellingham. Their tactical acquisition of Bajčetić for a minimal fee could prove to be a masterstroke. He remains in the infancy of his career and could quickly become an indispensable member of a side in a frantic spiral to rescue their season.
By: Alex Connor / @alexjconnor
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Alex Livesey – Danehouse / Getty Images