Arne Slot may already have found his new Liverpool No.6

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MAY 05: (THE SUN OUT. THE SUN ON SUNDAY OUT)  Stefan Bajcetic and Ryan Gravenberch of Liverpool arrives for the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on May 05, 2024 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
-Credit: (Image: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Such was the sudden rise of Stefan Bajcetic at Liverpool last year that the teenager was still being listed as an Academy defender on the club's official website while starring as a senior midfielder.

Bajcetic was noted for his versatility upon his arrival as a 16-year-old in late 2020 from Celta Vigo but nearly four years into his time on Merseyside, the prospect of him lining up at centre-back at Anfield now appears remote.

Instead, there will be a conversation with new head coach Arne Slot about just what type of role he can perform in the centre of the park going forward, with Bajcetic capable of operating as both a No.6 and a No.8, in modern parlance.

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"We put him in a new position," Jurgen Klopp said of Bajcetic after a 2-0 win over Everton in February last year. "I don’t think he’d ever played in the position before. He came here as a kid as a centre-half and played now as a No.6 in a few games and tonight as a No.8 and a lot of moments as a double six. He did extremely well. It was quite a good performance, to be honest."

Capable of playing further forward, running beyond opposition midfield and supplying the attacking players, Bajcetic is indeed able to operate as a slightly more advanced and multi-functional midfielder but it is at the base of the engine room where his future - both short and long term - truly lies.

Having burst on to the scene in early 2023, establishing himself as an important member of what was a struggling and confidence-shot squad at the time, Bajcetic has since endured a torrid 15 months or so of his own.

Long-term injuries that are said to owe a lot to growing problems have significantly stunted the progress for the £250,000 capture but he has shown enough prior to the initial setback, at Bournemouth in March 2023, to be excited about the prospect of a fully-fit summer schedule.

Bajcetic cut short his own summer schedule to get to work at the club's AXA Training Centre earlier this month in an effort to ensure he arrived at pre-season in ideal condition to impress the new coaches at the club.

Liverpool's search for a top-class defensive midfielder has been an open secret for over two years. From losing out on Aurelien Tchouameni in 2022 to Real Madrid to seeing first Moises Caicedo and then Romeo Lavia opt for Chelsea instead last summer, the Reds have long been scouring the market for someone to anchor the midfield.

The decision to pivot to then 30-year-old Wataru Endo was a significant break in tradition and change in strategy last August but the plan to continue assessing the market for a younger performer with a higher ceiling remains.

A certain amount of eyes may roll at the thought but Bajcetic may yet be the answer to that particular conundrum if he is able to get the opportunity to show that under Slot. The main thing the youngster has to focus on currently however is simply reestablishing himself in the eyes of the Liverpool manager. Or, as it is now, the head coach.

Bajcetic had the implicit trust of Klopp due to how rapidly he developed during their time together with the former manager once reflecting on such progress by saying: "There was a door - I'm not even sure it was open - but he ran through it and he was really exceptional."

The Spanish youth international has made just three appearances since having his season curtailed in that aforementioned visit to Bournemouth, but the evidence shown prior to that issue ensures the excitement remains around the teenager.

Another midfielder who could also help ease the burden on a squad without a world-class performer at '6' is Ryan Gravenberch; a player whose skillset has seen him play there plenty of times before.

Gravenberch's rangy, athletic style was initially spoken about upon his arrival at Liverpool as having the potential to be forged into a defensive midfield role by Klopp and his staff but there was little evidence of it during a mixed debut campaign on Merseyside.

Former Bayern Munich boss Thomas Tuchel highlighted the lack of No.8s that were needed in his 4-2-3-1 system for why Gravenberch struggled for any significant game-time during his one season in the Bundesliga, but the Dutch youngster played as a screen for the defence for nearly half of his final campaign at Ajax. Of the 2331 minutes played across 2021/22, as much as 40% of it came in the No.6 position.

At 22, his age and tactically flexibility could see Slot try to reprise a role Gravenberch became relatively familiar with during his formative days, which was a period where he established himself as one of the brightest teenage talents in the Eredivisie.