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Stefan Bajcetic plays first game in 6 months – but not in Liverpool role

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Stefan Bajcetic made his first appearance at any level since March as he came off the bench for Spain U21s, doing so in a different role to usual.

After an impressive run of starts for Liverpool’s first team in the second half of last season, Bajcetic saw an adductor injury end his campaign early.

His layoff ate into pre-season, too, with the 18-year-old unable to feature in any of the Reds’ warmup friendlies in Germany, Singapore and the UK.

But Bajcetic has made the bench for the last three games in the Premier League, with his fitness enough to earn him a call-up to Spain’s U21s squad this month.

Friday evening saw Spain visit Malta in their Euro qualifier, and manager Santi Denia saw it as an opportunity to integrate Bajcetic.

Coming off the bench with 25 minutes to play in a 6-0 win, it was not only Bajcetic’s debut for Spain U21s, but also his first game at any level since Liverpool’s 1-0 defeat to Bournemouth in March.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 19, 2023: Liverpool's substitute Stefan Bajcetic warms-up during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and AFC Bournemouth at Anfield. Liverpool won 3-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

He replaced Rafa Marin with Spain already four goals ahead, and did so at centre-back, rather than his normal midfield role.

It came after Denia told AS that he sees Liverpool’s No. 43 emulating Valencia’s Hugo Guillamon, who he had previously used in both defence and midfield.

“When he played in the youth teams, he played centre-back. I think he can give us alternatives in that position,” Denia explained.

“It may be like Guillamon in the previous generation, that he can occupy several positions. I have spoken with him and he agrees with that role.”

As Denia noted, it was not the first time Bajcetic had played centre-back, having arrived on Merseyside in 2020 as a natural in that role.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Monday, December 26, 2022: Liverpool's Stefan Bajcetic (R) celebrates with team-mate Darwin Núñez after scoring the third goal during the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Liverpool FC at Villa Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

But the decision was soon made to move the teenager further up the pitch than he had been used to at Celta Vigo, and he is now considered capable as both No. 6 and No. 8.

His versatility will undoubtedly be useful in years to come, with there even a prospect of him filling in with the playmaking right-back role enjoyed by Trent Alexander-Arnold.

For now, the main positive is his return from injury, with another chance to feature on Monday when Spain host Ben Doak‘s Scotland.