Liverpool must achieve the impossible against Real Madrid in the Champions League without their best midfielder of the last couple of inconsistent months.
Stefan Bajcetic made his debut in the 9-0 win over Bournemouth in August but did not make another Premier League appearance for Liverpool until Boxing Day, when he scored in a 3-1 victory against Aston Villa.
As Liverpool’s season descended further into unpredictability, the young midfielder started his first match in January and has not looked back since, even earning a new contract with his performances.
While Jurgen Klopp has said that Bajcetic’s breakthrough “didn’t change” anything in the club’s transfer plans, he praised the Spaniard’s “defensive contribution” in particular.
It’s the midfield equivalent of no Salah vs Barca. Need to get Hendo and Bajcetic in a “Never Give Up” t shirt and we’ll be fine.
— Stuart James Quigley (@sqstudios) March 14, 2023
“The position he plays, he is a really smart player with good vision, good overview, good technique, but we need players, we cannot go with only three midfielders in a season,” he said in March, declaring Bajcetic a key part of their long-term future.
But Liverpool will have to do without the 18-year-old against Real Madrid due to injury.
“With Stefan, it is a stress response, which is absolutely bad,” Klopp said in his pre-match press conference ahead of the last-16 second-leg tie.
“So, he doesn’t feel a lot, it’s only a little bit but he is now out for I don’t know exactly how long. We have just to let it settle then and we will see when he can come back.
“[It’s] high up, around the adductor.”
Jordan Henderson will also be absent at the Santiago Bernabeu due to illness.
Even with the subsequent dearth of options in central midfield, Liverpool must attempt to overcome a 5-2 deficit from the disastrous first leg at Anfield.
“We are alone with a little belief. But we will try tomorrow,” Klopp said.
“We are here to win the game and that is difficult enough here, one of the best teams in the world. We will give it a proper try. It’s not about sitting here saying ‘scoring three goals is no problem’. Of course it is.
“Real Madrid keep going and running, Luka Modric, Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos and then the young players, wow, Tchouameni…what a team. We lost big finals but we’ve played some good games against them.
“They don’t lose conviction or confidence, it’s a massive skill for a team. Nothing can really impact them negatively. Absolutely admirable. The way they play, we play differently, so it’s about the mentality. They have all my respect, a fantastic team.”
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