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Steven Gerrard proved right on ‘positive’ Liverpool claim but Luka Modrić lesson must be learned



Steven Gerrard was right with a ‘positive’ statement ahead of Liverpool’s defeat to Real Madrid, when a young player outclassed most of his team-mates.

With the run-up to the game dominated by new concerns over Darwin Núñez’s shoulder, it was easy to overlook the absence of two other key players for Liverpool.

Ibrahima Konaté was missing from central defense following a hamstring injury sustained in Brighton’s FA Cup defeat at the end of January.

Jürgen Klopp’s contingency plan was to select Joe Gomez alongside Virgil van Dijk, but the Englishman had a bad night.

And in midfield, Thiago was sidelined with a hip problem which put his participation in the second leg in doubt. The gap on the left side of Klopp’s third midfield was filled by Stefan Bajčetić, who made just his 15th appearance for the club, his ninth start and his full Champions League debut. He became the youngest player in Liverpool history to start a league game, ahead of Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen.

At the start of the season, many Liverpool fans didn’t even know the teenager. He now he started his biggest match of the campaign so far in place of one of the squad’s key players.

So how did he get away with it?

Let’s start with the areas where it could have been better. Bajčetić played a small role in two of Real Madrid’s five goals that night.

He tried to be too smart for the guest equalizer. After Real Madrid cleared a corner from Liverpool, Fabinho passed the Spaniard who tried to slide the ball between Federico Valverde and Karim Benzema and lost it.

You could tell the confidence was gone after a great start so he gave it a try, but the risk was too great. Although he couldn’t correct the error at the other end – Alisson should have cleared Joe Gomez’s back pass and the error would then have been forgotten – he should have known that Real Madrid were developing a situation at three against two when he made the ball turns.

He wasn’t the main culprit for Real’s fifth and final goal either, but still had to take a small share of the blame.

After losing possession through negligence, Fabinho was forced to commit a tactical foul on Luka Modrić and accept a yellow card, but was pushed back by his much more experienced opponent, who then scored Vinícius Jr. for a two against two with Benzema. Had it been the other way around, you’d think Modrić would have stopped the dangerous attack at all costs.

Apart from that, Bajčetić also passed the ball too many times. Only Vinícius and Trent Alexander-Arnold (both 22) lost possession more often than the midfielder (18), and while his long passes were strong (seven from 11 completions), there were too many errors in his short game. Only Cody Gakpo (75%) and Núñez (66.7) had a lower short hitting success rate than Bajčetić (81.5%).

But now let’s look at the positives.

Given that we have identified his role in the Real goal, it is also fair to mention the negative pressure pass he played to Jordan Henderson before the Liverpool goal.

He also came close to scoring with an excellent first attempt curling from 25 yards in the second half. One of the reasons Bajčetić lost so often was that he was brave in possession and sometimes that paid off.

“He always tries to push forward, he always tries to be positive,” Liverpool legend Gerrard told BT Sport ahead of the game.

In fact, Bajčetić recorded five progressive passes and three past third passes, ranking fourth in both divisions.

And perhaps the most impressive aspect of his performance was his off-the-ball work. Bajčetić pressed well and fought treacherously in the middle of the park, making a team effort with four tackles. Once again he agreed with Gerrard.

“He shows aggression, he covers the ground very well,” the former Reds skipper said before the game.

Despite his faults, it’s probably still fair to say that he was Liverpool’s best midfielder during the match.

So tonight was a night that demonstrated simultaneously the inexperience and potential of Liverpool’s brightest talent, picked by Gerrard to be lauded for good reason.