Stefan Bajcetic’s Youth Helps Liverpool Get Sightings of Seniors

Well, they always say the form book goes out the window on derby day. At the end of this game, with the Liverpool players backslapping and lying on the pitch, and Jürgen Klopp strolling over to the Kop to punch the air with his fist, and Anfield chanting “go down, going down, going down”, a strange and unfamiliar vibe could be felt around this place. Two nil against Everton. Salah on the score sheet. Was this … normality?

Things haven’t felt normal at Liverpool for a while. Not only the football, which was cold and insipid. Nor Klopp himself, who suffered in the last few months the tetchy obscurity of Hollywood A-lister reduced now to do commercials for price comparison websites. Even Anfield in the hours leading up to this game without its usual crackling electricity felt its hope. For Liverpool, who were 10th in the Premier League, this was a game centered somewhere between agonizing horror and pure terror.

The optimistic reading is that this comfortable win against their favorite opponents can bring back a bit of the old crowd, put them back on an upward path. There are achievable prizes to aim for here. Brentford, Fulham and Brighton can be renovated. Tottenham remain resolutely Tottenham. Newcastle beat this weekend and suddenly fourth place is just six points clear with a game in hand. Real Madrid visit next week. Time to move.

Related: Liverpool’s Cody Gakpo scored the Reds’ first goal in the win over toothless Everton

And there were real reasons for encouragement in this game. The defensive display, especially in the second half. Starring Darwin Núñez, Cody Gakpo and Stefan Bajcetic. Even Trent Alexander-Arnold seemed to rise in this game, bagging an assist in the second half and unleashing his classic repertoire of crosses: the stinger, the zinger, the curler, the swirler, the roller , the high diagonal, the sly left. -footer.

But we’ve been here before with this Liverpool, a club forever turning the corner to find another corner. And for the riotous fun of the second half, there were some warning signs for them too. Another slow start. Fabinho’s constant conflicts. Those strange 10 minute periods when Liverpool just forget to pass the ball, as if under some collective evil spell. In fact, for much of the first half hour, they looked like a pale shadow: frazzled, tired, dead behind the eyes.

There is a lot of talk about fatigue. But the problem here is not so much physical as mental. Perhaps the reason Liverpool start so badly is that they have lost the ability to self-motivate. They need something to get them going. Often, to their detriment, it’s going back down. Here, on the other hand, they get a small stroke of fortune.

It’s no exaggeration to suggest that if James Tarkowski’s header goes in, the entire DNA of this game changes. Instead he hits the post, Dwight McNeil’s follow-up hits the heels of Abdoulaye Doucouré, and suddenly – for the first time in years – there’s space. Liverpool never find space. Klopp’s Liverpool were a counter-attacking team. Hardly anyone pretends to counter attack them now.

But suddenly Núñez has 80 yards of fresh green grass ahead of him. Liverpool suddenly feels the thrill of the escape. In those few seconds a few old memories seem to stir within them. The devastating pace of the break puts pressure on Everton. Jordan Pickford only got the better of his goal by convincing him that a man was putting out the bins in his socks. It doesn’t come close to being close. Salah scored. Anfield breaks into his voice. Suddenly it’s 2018 again.

The target has a double effect. Suddenly Everton, whose plan to push Liverpool strongly in the middle of the field is very well lost, and goes back into a shell. Liverpool, meanwhile, have room to breathe. And best of all, it’s the new guard that makes the best use of it.

Núñez and his outsized ambition are perfect for this game. He makes his own on the left, combines well with Andy Robertson, plays a brilliant 60 yard Alexander-Arnold-style pass to Alexander-Arnold. Gakpo has the best game for Liverpool: safe under pressure, shielding the ball well with a tight circle and a sharp burst of acceleration to create gaps. Both have a directness that exemplifies Klopp’s classic early sides, all pace and impatience, the shortest route to the goal by the quickest possible means.

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But Bajcetic is the real revelation here. It must be refreshing for a raw, detached midfielder like Fabinho to have a player as mature and assured as Bajcetic alongside him to learn from. And the Spaniard is the perfect teacher: brave on the ball and smart mover off it, the type of player who always knows exactly how much time he has on the ball, can play the ball or slow it down. Not bad for a guy who six months ago was literally a baby.

Núñez, 23, signed in the summer. Gakpo, 23, signed in January. Bajcetic, 18, was making just his third league start. These guys were not here for the good times. They have no laurels to rest on, no accumulated baggage slowing the limbs and slowing the mind.

They long to build something new, but they cannot do it alone. Liverpool’s future looks pretty bright. It is the gift that they must solve.

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