An Ode to Ezequiel: Why Palacios Will Be Key to Bayer Leverkusen’s Title Hopes

You can almost feel the tingles emanating from Leverkusen wherever you are.

This is the closest that their beloved Die Schwarzroten have come to winning the German Bundesliga title, with a handy points cushion over a Bayern Munich side that, for all their obvious talent, has shown vulnerability this term.

Such fragility is not something you’d associate with Leverkusen, whose shrewd head coach Xabi Alonso has taken the club to new heights – both in terms of league position and quality on the pitch.

Chief to their glorious rise has been Ezequiel Palacios, a World Cup winner who’s now closing in on Bundesliga silverware too. Can the Argentine kick on and help to deliver Leverkusen’s first-ever German title?

Man in the Middle

The latest football odds have Bayern down as the most likely side to win the Bundesliga this season, with 4/7 available on the perennial champions to see off the threat of Leverkusen (11/8).

The football tips from Paddy Power News are also keen to back the Munich outfit as often as possible too – they blitzed 59 goals in their opening 20 Bundesliga games, after all, with the likes of Harry Kane and Leroy Sane capable of winning any game in the blink of an eye.

Alonso’s Leverkusen are more of a unified team capable of performing to a level greater than the sum of their parts, with Alex Grimaldo and Jonas Hofmann amongst those delivering career-best performances this season.

But the glue that holds the whole outfit together is Palacios, the midfielder who continues to mature into the roaming role that Alonso has afforded him this term.

He’s benefitted from the guile and craft of Granit Xhaka alongside him, which has freed up Palacios to play higher up in the pitch in something akin to a number eight – his quality in the final third of the pitch confirmed by his outstanding ability to break the lines.

All that’s missing from Palacios 2.0 is more end product – goals and assists would be welcome, but the Argentine has already found the net in 2024 with the winner against Augsburg back in January.

If Leverkusen are to pull off the unthinkable come May, you can be sure that Palacios will be at the heart of their success.

In the Schick of It

For all the varied attacking talents at Alonso’s disposal, it’s something of a forgotten man that may yet prove to be his trump card.

Patrik Schick missed a huge chunk of last season – plus around three months of this – due to injuries; it’s only natural then for questions to be asked about how quickly he can hit the ground running after so long on the sidelines.

The Czech ace answered some of those critics with a hat-trick against Bochum just before Christmas, while there’s been a clear going up through the gears again since returning from the winter break.

“I really appreciate the feeling, the opportunity that I can play without any pain,” the 28-year-old told the German Bundesliga website, before confirming that he has the “fire in [him]” to kick on and become a vital cog of Alonso’s title push.

Nobody expected Schick to be such a key player for Leverkusen this term. But then, nobody expected Die Schwarzroten to be challenging for the championship at the business end of the season either.

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