Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was backed in the summer and completed a full-scale reconstruction of the midfield, shifting multiple former first-team regulars on to accommodate the spending.
The likes of Jordan Henderson and Fabinho had been crucial components of the illustrious success over the course of Klopp’s reign but were at the epicentre of a 2022/23 term that yielded a fifth-placed finish in the Premier League and exposed the startling infirmities.
It was an ageing midfield. A battle-hardened, world-weary crop of players that had endured one too many battles and was no longer fit to implement the strategy to the desired standard.
And fair enough, Liverpol’s £25m acquisition of Thiago Alcantara was the only permanent midfield signing since the summer of 2018 before this year’s influx – the richest, most verdant gardens will wither and fade without cultivation.
And fade it did, with the midfield’s lethargy and lack of intensity of Klopp’s vision viewed as the crux of Liverpool’s decline.
During the bleakness of the winter months, emblematic of Liverpool’s struggles, a beacon of hope emerged in Stefan Bajcetic, with the teenage prospect thrown into the mix with the Reds running out of ideas, and his energy and enthusiasm winning the hearts of the supporters as his senior peers toiled.
Stefan Bajcetic’s 22/23 season in numbers
Bajcetic’s 2022/23 campaign was cruelly ended prematurely following an abductor injury in March – which has hindered his progress ever since, having made two appearances in September before returning to the sidelines – but he was simply superb across the winter months.
The Spaniard was described as “special” by journalist Zubin Daver for his exploits, having received acclaim for his aggression, fearlessness, guile and ball-playing skills.
Having made his debut in the stunning 9-0 victory over Bournemouth in August 2022, Bajcetic would make his second display in the Premier League against Aston Villa in December, scoring an exquisite goal to confirm a much-needed 3-1 victory, weaving into the box and firing past Emiliano Martinez.
Liverpool’s Youngest PL Scorers
*Sourced via Sky Sports
He made 19 senior appearances in total, and while he didn’t add to that sole strike, the Spain U21 international shone and completed 79% of his passes and 64% of his dribbles in the Premier League, according to Sofascore.
As per FBref, Bajcetic is a comparable player to Arsenal’s Declan Rice, which speaks volumes for his potential and the type of instrumental midfield star that he could become in the future.
Stefan Bajcetic’s potential
Bajcetic is one of the best talents Liverpool have boasted in some time, make no mistake about that. Barring Trent Alexander-Arnold, there is an argument that he could be the club’s best prospect to have made an impact under Klopp’s management, though time will tell if such claims ring true.
Alex Otero, youth football co-ordinator at Celta Vigo, is among those to have recognised the prodigy’s talents from an early age and spoke freely of the key components to his blooming success.
“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.”
Having joined the Merseyside outfit for just £224k in December 2020, aged 16, squeezed into the transfer reckoning before post-Brexit regulations inhibited such deals, or at least made them a far more strenuous task, the 19-year-old has made an incredible journey to the first-team.
When Bajcetic overcomes his current issues, he will be expected to work toward a consistent place in the senior set-up, and this is more than attainable if last season’s feats are anything to go by.
However, he’s not the only member of a rich crop of formative talent at Liverpool, with Bobby Clark among the most likely candidates to filter into Klopp’s consideration over the coming months.
Bobby Clark’s youth statistics
This season, Clark has been in fantastic form for the development squad and has already posted a goal and three assists from just four outings in the Premier League 2.
Formerly a winger, the 18-year-old has since been shifted into a central midfield role and has cemented a starring spot at the Anfield side’s U21 squad, at the heart of the exploits.
Having made 66 appearances for Liverpool’s various youth outfits, Clark has plundered 17 goals and 12 assists and boasts so much creativity and technical ability that it’s clear that Klopp will envisage a future with the teenager in the senior set-up.
Like Bajcetic, Clark made his senior debut against the Cherries and received his first starting berth against Derby County in the Carabao Cup in September, showcasing some of his impressive core attributes, completing 89% of his passes, making a key pass and winning two tackles, as per Sofascore.
Liverpool’s capture of the talented youth was a big blow to the Magpies’ goals regarding the development side’s growth, with the Chronicle’s Lee Ryder saying: “Bobby was Newcastle’s most promising youngster.
“He is a really exciting player with bags of skill and talent. He could have lit up the stage at St James’ Park but now he has gone to Liverpool and that is a real kick in the teeth.”
His Reds manager, Barry Lewtas, also said this: “He’s extremely talented and his pressing is excellent. He’s been a really good player for us, but I also think he’s made massive strides as well, big improvements, and that’s what he’s going to have to continue to do.”
Clark is still very young and will not be expected to fashion a spot in the Liverpool first-team just yet, but he will be hopeful to receive opportunities to impress and could make an appearance in the FA Cup in the new year.
Given Bajcetic’s prominent role last season and Clark’s two senior showings to date, there is every chance that such opportunities will fall into his vicinity, and he must now look to catch Klopp’s eye when called upon.