Bayer Leverkusen have stolen the hearts and minds of neutrals spectating the Bundesliga this season with their breathtaking football. An engulfing attack supplied by the genius of Granit Xhaka lies in front of a backline that has been relatively impenetrable – with only three sides in the league conceding fewer goals.
Nevertheless, while this description is considerably accurate, it does ignore a player that has been a crucial clog in the Leverkusen system. The only player who does not fall into either bracket, a player who sits in midfield and has the unenviable job of winning the ball back for Xabi Alonso’s side. That player is Exequiel Palacios.
To make matters worse for the Argentinian, last season was no different. While Robert Andrich often claimed the appraisal of those watching, as the midfielder was often deployed successfully in a variety of positions by Alonso, Moussa Diaby and Jeremie Frimpong also found themselves in the headlines due to their frightening double act on the right hand side.
However, quietly working away in the Leverkusen midfield was Palacios, combining defensive due diligence with creativity on the ball. Palacios was well and truly running the show in the Werkself’s midfield and with often little attention to his name.
As per FBref, with 92 tackles and interceptions over the course of last season, only Andrich could boast a better return than the Argentinian with 103. While only Edmond Tapsoba completed more progressive passes and passes into the final third, stepping up from the backline.
As for this season, Palacios has been partnered alongside Xhaka, with Andrich playing a bit part role from the bench thus far. The Swiss international has taken the mantle of creative presence in the midfield – despite Palacios still providing respectable progression when on the ball – but this has allowed the 2022 World Cup winner to become Alonso’s chief ball winner.
With 20 tackles and interceptions in Leverkusen’s opening four games, he is comfortably leading the side in this department. While he would not start against Bayern Munich on matchday four – due to his international requirements for Argentina the week prior – Palacios would still find time to break Bavarian hearts by displaying unrivalled composure to score an equalising penalty in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
A player that can do it all and often for little praise by those watching and reporting. However, the only attention Palacios will want is that of his manager’s and it is clear to see that Alonso appreciates what the 24-year-old supplies to his spellbinding Leverkusen side.
GGFN | Will Shopland