You may have seen a certain No. 43 catch the eye during Liverpool’s pre-season tours to date and the one donning the shirt is 17-year-old Stefan Bajcetic, but what do we know about him?
The Reds’ pre-season is a vital period to set the foundations for the year ahead but it is also the chance for those in the academy to seize a valuable opportunity in and around the first team.
Liverpool has a wealth of talent in their youth ranks and Bajcetic certainly fits under that category, a player that was namechecked by Pepijn Lijnders as far back as January.
That goes to show the waves he was making in the academy just a year after signing for the club, with the coaches eager to show him “exactly how we want to do things.”
But who is the midfielder that is impressing in pre-season?
Who is Bajcetic?
The 17-year-old joined Liverpool from Celta Vigo in February 2021, in a deal that only preceded the introduction of Brexit regulations by a few hours.
From the start of 2021, English clubs were no longer able to sign players under the age of 18 from overseas and Bajcetic represented one of the last young foreign internationals to land at the club.
In the time since Liverpool have shifted their transfer focus to a more domestic approach in line with the new regulations, as seen by the addition of the likes of Kaide Gordon, Bobby Clark, Ben Doak and Trent Kone-Doherty.
Before the overseas market was closed off, Bajcetic attracted plenty of interest, which included Man United.
Academy director Alex Inglethorpe, his assistant Nick Marshall and under-21s manager Barry Lewtas have all been credited with a role in his decision to opt for the Reds, who reportedly parted with £224,000 for his signature.
Bajcetic is a Spain national but has Serbian heritage from his dad, Srdjan, who played for Celta and was on the club’s books at the same time as Thiago‘s dad, Mazinho.
Srdjan settled in Spain after meeting his wife and saw his son later join the same club.
Has he changed position?
His time with Liverpool’s under-18s and under-23s, now regarded as under-21s, saw him shift into the base of midfield only a number of months ago, making the most of his ability on and off the ball.
“I always played centre-back growing up but now I think I’m capable of playing there [No. 6 role]. If they give me the opportunity, I will.
“To be honest, I don’t mind [where I play]. I just want to play football. If the staff and coach thinks I’m needed there, I will play there.
“Especially for this club, the way he [Fabinho] plays, I think, is the best, and I always try to look at him and learn from him.
“It’s obviously tough to play like him but I always try to look at him and learn from his positioning, his pressing and all that.”
Why haven’t we seen him sooner?
Bajcetic only arrived at the club in 2021 at the age of 16, spending the majority of his time with the U18s before then taking part in a number of training sessions with the first team.
And while the adage adopted by Klopp and co. is that if you’re ‘good enough, you’re old enough’, there is a balance to be had and expectation to be managed.
But more crucially for the teenager, an injury in January put a premature end to his year last season to leave him working his way back to fitness leading into pre-season, with the meeting against Man United in Thailand marking his on-field return.
This summer is the right time for the youngster and is to leave the door ajar for chances throughout the season should Klopp again look to the academy, primarily in cup fixtures.
What has been said of the teenager?
Bajcetic’s skillset lends itself to his versatility, with his calm and composed nature coupled with his ability on the ball, both with his passing range and his desire to run at the opposition.
They’re traits that there were seen when he won the ball back at Leipzig to help set up Darwin Nunez‘s third goal and Liverpool’s fourth of the day, with his composure and awareness clear to see.
A Twitter thread from Lewis Bower showcases what the teenager has to offer and why he has caught the eye of Fabinho, among others.
He he can pass vertically into feet or switch the play. He’s a fantastic passer.
Also to disrupt the opposition shape, Bajcetic is confident enough to carry the ball deep into opposition territory, often successfully.
Here he is doing both: pic.twitter.com/iZGIq4opIi
— Lewis Bower (@LewisBower2021) July 14, 2022
“He has trained with us, he will get better, he will have more confidence to take the ball, to turn, to do some stuff that the No. 6 does.”
The No. 6 role is where his future looks destined to be, and with Fabinho, Klopp and the club’s coaches in his corner, all signs point to it being a bright one.