Sunday’s disappointing loss against Arsenal has given the home team a significant boost in their quest for success in the English Premier League, although Liverpool maintain their position at the top of the table and have shown remarkable form throughout the season.
Just a year ago, Liverpool faced a bleak period, struggling to maintain their identity and cohesion on the field, a stark contrast to their impressive performance during the 2021/22 season where they chased an unprecedented quadruple.
Despite their setbacks, Jurgen Klopp successfully revitalised the team, implementing swift changes to the midfield last summer, which restored Liverpool’s status as contenders for the Premier League title.
The recent defeat to Arsenal may have provided hope for the hosts, but Liverpool continue to lead the league and have displayed exceptional prowess this season. The squad has faced evident fatigue, understandable given the relentless nature of the season’s schedule.
During the previous year, teenager Stefan Bajcetic provided youthful energy and support for Liverpool during their struggles. Although he has been sidelined with injuries for much of the current season, Klopp anticipates his return to training in February, potentially adding a valuable dimension to the team once again.
Stefan Bajcetic’s 2022/23 Season in Numbers
Liverpool acquired Bajcetic for a mere £224k in December 2020, when he was just 16 years old. However, it wasn’t until the early stage of the 2022/23 season that Bajcetic, now 19, made his senior debut. He came off the bench during Liverpool’s 9-0 victory over Bournemouth in the Premier League.
During the new year, when Liverpool faced challenges, Bajcetic seized a series of opportunities. By the end of the season, he had made 11 appearances in the top flight. In those appearances, he completed 79% of his passes, succeeded with 64% of his dribbles, and won an average of 3.1 duels per game.
The youngster is on the verge of resuming training, and upon complete recovery, he could seamlessly reintegrate into the senior squad.
However, with Thiago Alcantara’s return from injury against Arsenal and Wataru Endo’s imminent arrival following Japan’s elimination from the Asia Cup, there’s stiff competition for starting positions.
Should Bajcetic make an immediate impact, it could unsettle players like Ryan Gravenberch, potentially affecting their standing in the team hierarchy.
Liverpool’s Signing of Ryan Gravenberch
Deals for Dominik Szoboszlai and Alexis Mac Allister were secured well in advance of the summer transfer window’s closing stretch. Endo’s surprise £16m signing in August helped cushion the blow of missing out on Moises Caicedo and Romeo Lavia to Chelsea (hindsight, ay).
Amid several departures, fans eagerly awaited one final move. Their wishes were granted on deadline day when Liverpool confirmed the £34m acquisition of Netherlands international Gravenberch.
The 21-year-old arrived from Bayern Munich with plenty of potential, despite a disappointing stint in Germany where he started just three Bundesliga matches in the 2022/23 season, overlooked by both Julian Nagelsmann and Thomas Tuchel.
Since his arrival in England, the midfielder earning £150k per week has notched three goals and two assists in 28 appearances across all competitions. Neil Jones, a reporter, believes Gravenberch possesses all the necessary qualities for his dynamic and progressive performances.
Yet, it’s evident that more is required for Gravenberch to solidify himself as a regular starter at Anfield for the foreseeable future. Bajcetic’s early career achievements suggest he could play a significant role in the team’s future success.
Why Bajcetic Could Surpass Gravenberch
Journalist Zubin Daver has hailed Bajcetic as “special,” and Liverpool, acknowledging his standout performances amid a depleted senior squad, quietly admitted that they have a budding star in their midst.
Given Bajcetic’s blend of technical proficiency, tenacity, and composure in tight situations, he might just have the skill set to surpass Gravenberch and bloom into one of the Premier League’s highest-quality centre-midfielders.
Of course, Klopp will leave at the end of the season but with Xabi Alonso considered among the favourites to succeed the 56-year-old, the Spaniard could be the perfect coach for his compatriot, who is blessed with similarly versatile traits, adept at dictating play and leading defensive efforts from the middle.
Gravenberch, though, is endowed with natural talent in abundance and does have the ability to make the Anfield centre his own.
As per FBref, Gravenberch ranks among the top 7% of midfielders across Europe’s top five leagues over the past year for shot-creating actions, the top 12% for progressive passes, progressive carries and blocks and the top 8% for successful take-ons per 90.
|Ryan Gravenberch: Similar Players
Gravenberch is still young and his myriad of qualities show that he has the trappings of a multi-functional midfielder of world class, but recent displays have highlighted a lack of application that will ostracise him from a prominent standing under Klopp’s wing for the remainder of the term.
Against Arsenal, the Dutchman was a passenger and received a 3/10 match rating after an ineffectual and damaging effort, taking just 24 touches and failing to make a single tackle before being hooked before the hour mark.
Brighter days lay ahead, there’s no doubt about that, but there are tentative concerns that Gravenberch’s lack of defensive awareness and engagement denotes a wider, more serious underlying issue.
With Bajcetic’s return to the first-team fold only a matter of time, the one-time Ajax prodigy will need to start proving that he can combine the facets of the midfield game together.
Bajcetic certainly can, and if the Spaniard picks up from where he left off before his injury almost one year ago, then it’s certainly going to have Gravenberch strung up as he considers his chances of a regular starting berth.