Who is Exequiel Palacios?
Background image: John Seb Barber, CC BY 2.0
On New Year's Day, Bayer Leverkusen purchased Exequiel Palacios from River Plate for €17 million and signed the 21-year-old midfielder to a deal through 2025. Clubs like Real Madrid kept Palacios on their radar but the Argentine made a wise decision to sign for an intermediate club.
After debuting at the Monumental at 17, Palacios developed substantially. He came into the first-team picture last season, making 36 appearances, scoring four goals and assisting seven. His performance against fierce rivals Boca Juniors over the Copa Libertadores semifinal's two legs will always be cherished by Los Millonarios’ faithful.
The Argentine joins Fede Valverde in the queue for a place in La Albiceleste's senior squad. He's already started in three friendlies and come on as a substitute in a forth, recording assists against Guatemala and Mexico.
Palacios played multiple positions for River Plate, as a d-mid, no.10 and sometimes on the wing. An archetypal midfield maestro who can do it all, his box-to-box abilities are polished and neat. His biggest strength is ball progression. With a wide array of passing options and an ability to dribble past defenders, he drove River Plate up the pitch. Aggressive, he loves to make late runs into the box to give his side numerical superiority and defenders headaches.
He can improve his shooting after scoring only once in the Argentine Superliga. Taken from long range, his shots tend to be blocked. At least, he forces defenders to close him down.
Palacios’ defensive output is thunderous. River Plate loves a pressing game and it hinged on Palacios. He never tires. Quick and agile, he doesn't allow any opponent time on the ball.
His deft first touch and strong shielding recall Paul Pogba. Palacios doesn’t possess the Frenchman's physique or loping stride but never ceases to surprise.
Along with his shooting, his passing is satisfactory but can be more efficient. His tendency to lose possession in the middle of the pitch is more akin to Fred than Pogba, although he shares the latter's enthusiasm for doing too much.
Off the pitch, he may cause Bayer some embarrassment with his social life. The Argentine involved himself in more than one Buenos Aires scandal with a quick succession of romantic flings.
On the pitch, Leverkusen plays a different style than River Plate. Manager Peter Bosz set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 when Julian Brandt was in the squad. This season, he tends towards a 4-1-4-1. Bosz’s philosophy revolves around a high defensive line, counter-pressing, and creating passing channels through quick movements. Bayer lacks a mobile d-mid, however. When the team presses, they leave acres of space behind. Defensive principles are unclear in midfield.
Palacios solves the problem. An upgrade over 30-somethings Charles Aranguiz and Julian Baumgartlinger, he won't leave gaps between the lines. Roughly ten years younger than Bosz's current options, he'll inject energy and enthusiasm into Bayer's game.
If Leverkusen are able to hold onto Kai Havertz, Jonathan Tah and Kevin Volland, they can challenge for European competitions. Currently sixth on 31 points after resuming the Bundesliga campaign with a 4-1 win over Paderborn, matches with Fortuna Dusseldorf and Hoffenheim take them into February and a top of the table clash with Borussia Dortmund. Palacios didn't make the teamsheet for the Paderborn game, indicating Bosz will take his time with the youngster. That said, Bayer aren't likely to be the peak in the Argentine's career.