Liverpool against Newcastle United hasn't really stood out on the fixture list in recent seasons, but Saturday's clash comes at a time when the Magpies have begun to drop points and there are finally signs that Liverpool might be ready to fire once more. And it's thanks in part to the enthusiasm of youth.
Last Monday we saw signs of the old Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp as they played with a high intensity while showing their ruthless nature on the counter-attack as they picked off rivals Everton for their opening goal in the 2-0 victory. Having been on a run of four games without a win in the Premier League, the Reds had extra motivation for the Merseyside derby and they delivered a performance the like of which we might have expected from the visitors, and they fully merited their victory.
Mohamed Salah’s opening goal typified the best parts of the Klopp era at Anfield. James Tarkowski almost put Everton ahead from a corner and Liverpool punished them on the break. Salah picked out Darwin Nunez and the Uruguayan carried the ball up the pitch before returning the ball to the ace number 11 with an inviting cross, from which Salah caught out Jordan Pickford with an instinctive finish.
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We’ve not seen too much of that from Liverpool this term, which is reflected in the usually prolific Salah only having eight Premier League goals to his name so far. Salah ended a run of five league games without a goal, and as we have come to know over the years, Liverpool’s red hot form is parallel to that of Salah’s in front of goal. The 30-year-old hasn’t quite been at the races this season, but neither have many of his teammates, hence why the 2020 champions are sitting in ninth.
Much has been said about the Reds lacking the energy and the hunger to implement their high-intensity style this year, and it seems like there have been several variables contributing to this period of stagnation. Firstly, the club played in every competitive fixture possible in 2021-22 which was always going to be draining for the players. Other reasons include the suggestion that this team is in need of freshening up and many fans were particularly saddened to see no midfield reinforcements arrive in the January transfer window due to the struggles of the experienced players in the midfield ranks in terms of both form and injury.
Liverpool have been linked with some of the most sought-after midfielders on the scene right now. They were linked with World Cup winner Enzo Fernandez but he ended up at free-spending Chelsea for a British record fee of £107 million. They’ve held a long-time interest in Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham, who is also going to cost over £100 million. The Reds were tracking Wolverhampton Wanderers star Matheus Nunes before he moved to Molineux from Sporting CP last summer, and their interest hasn’t wavered.
Enjoy a brilliant Stefan Bajcetic display against Everton all over again 😍
While there is no doubt that a rebuild is impending at Anfield, there are some components already in place to take over the reins from the elder members of the squad. There are some exciting players within Liverpool’s academy and some have already been introduced to the first-team environment. One of them started against Everton and was unquestionably the best player on the pitch. Midfielder Stefan Bajcetic was deployed in the middle of the park alongside Fabinho and Jordan Henderson and delivered an incredible performance for an 18-year-old in his first Merseyside derby.
He was up for the physical challenge as he won all of his tackles and it was his turnover that saw Cody Gakpo net his first club goal to wrap up the three points in the second half. He was pushed into the number eight role by Klopp, having been used as a number six in his previous two starts, and he acclimatised excellently. Bajcetic has certainly been making an impression on the squad too as Salah paid him one of the highest compliments in his post-match interview on Sky Sports. He said: “Since Stefan started playing with us, he’s been our best player.”
Given that both Thiago Alcantara and Naby Keita were named on the bench against the Toffees, it highlights just how highly Klopp regards Bajcetic and he is going to be a key player for the club, not just for the impending transition but for the years to come. His sudden rise into the first team will give fans a huge sigh of relief as they will feel safe in the knowledge that they have a promising midfield talent already in their ranks, and he cost just £224,000.
The Spanish youngster looks set to be a mainstay in the squad for the remainder of the campaign as Liverpool will be looking to claw their way into the top four. They are currently nine points off the pace but face a crunch clash with top-four hopefuls Newcastle this weekend.
Klopp was also boosted by the return of attackers Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino to the matchday squad against Everton and both were given a run-out from the bench. The pair have been sorely missed in recent months and their return significantly strengthens the group for the remainder of the term.
The strong display against Everton gave Liverpool a platform to build on for the remaining months of the season and now they need to find that same rhythm on a weekly basis if they are to rescue a place in Europe next year, but they will also benefit from having more options to choose from and seem to have more threatening assets to call upon from the bench.