Every young player goes into each season dreaming of a breakthrough, but Stefan Bajcetic‘s involvement in 2022/23 was likely beyond anything he had imagined.
The 18-year-old could barely have wished for a more gentle introduction to the senior team when he was brought on with 20 minutes of Liverpool’s 9-0 thrashing of Bournemouth still to play back in August.
Having impressed for the under-18s as they finished runners-up to Man City in the season prior, Bajcetic grabbed his opportunity with both hands and went on to become almost undroppable in Jurgen Klopp‘s midfield.
The youngster caught the eye as Liverpool knocked Derby out of the Carabao Cup in the third round, but had to wait until after the World Cup to make his next league appearance.
From then, it was full steam ahead until an unfortunate injury ended his campaign prematurely in March.
But despite his early derailment, the 18-year-old demonstrated enough quality to practically ensure he will be part of the manager’s plans upon his return.
Stefan Bajcetic, 2022/23
Started: 11 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 8
Unused sub: 13
Overall Season Rating: 8
A priceless discovery
The club’s staff will have been well aware of Bajcetic’s talent and had plans for his development, but for the majority of supporters, his explosive rise came as a welcome surprise.
His debut may have come in August, but the midfielder truly announced himself with the third and final goal in Liverpool’s Boxing Day win over Aston Villa.
A clever and composed finish at Villa Park was described by Bajcetic as the “best moment” of his young life, and he went on to take full advantage of the growing injury list by shining at the base of the Reds’ midfield.
Klopp’s trust in his young midfielder led to him getting 85 minutes in a monstrous Champions League showdown with Real Madrid at Anfield back in February.
Although the tie ultimately ended in a disappointing 5-2 defeat for the Reds, Bajcetic certainly didn’t disgrace himself, but was taught a lesson by Luka Modric in the middle of the park.
An old head on young shoulders
Within the space of just a few weeks, Bajcetic went from a youth prospect to a player whose exclusion from teamsheets would raise eyebrows.
The Spaniard made eight consecutive league appearances, including six starts, between January and March as he initially displaced Fabinho and then shifted into the left-sided No. 8 role.
He was handed the full 90 minutes in the Merseyside derby and put in an impressive hour in a big away win at Newcastle just five days later.
Bajcetic’s form had prompted Spain to plan to promote the youngster to their under-21s before he suffered his season-ending injury, further highlighting the high regard in which he was beginning to be held across football.
His progress was rewarded with a new long-term contract in the new year to keep him at the club until 2027.
The timing and severity of Bajcetic’s injury was extremely unfortunate given his progress, but Klopp has demonstrated his willingness to wait for recovery and allow players the chance to pick up where they left off.
Liverpool’s midfield rebuild this summer should by no means discourage the teenager from plotting his route back into the team, particularly given the fact age is so evidently on his side.
Harvey Elliott suffered a similar setback at a corresponding point in his career and has been able to re-establish himself within the blink of an eye.
Elliott became the first teenager to feature in Liverpool’s first 40 games of a season since Robbie Fowler in 1994/95.
It remains to be seen where Bajcetic will fit into the setup upon his return, but he has shown his ability as a holding midfielder and more advanced, and may even be a stand-in for Trent Alexander-Arnold in his new hybrid role.
There is absolutely no rush for the 18-year-old to get himself back to full fitness, but minutes will almost certainly be made available to him when he does.
He may have only made 11 starts in all competitions, but you could strongly argue that no Liverpool player came away from 2022/23 with their stock having risen as much as Bajcetic’s.
A very bright future ahead.
Best moment: His first goal in a Liverpool shirt during the Boxing Day win at Villa Park.
Worst moment: A tough lesson from Modric in the 5-2 defeat to Real.
Role next season: Focusing on making a full recovery from injury and earning more regular minutes upon his return.