Argentinian talent Exequiel Palacios will join Bayer 04 from his native club, River Plate, in January on a five-year contract. It is a massive deal for the German side, and he will definitely help them in their chase for a top-four finish and Europa League title. In this tactical analysis, we are going to see what will the Argentinian midfielder bring in to the Bayer side and what role he currently plays in Marcelo Gallardo’s team.

Style of play

Palacios can play in multiple positions and roles in midfield. In his career for River Plate, he has already played as one of two defensive midfielders, as a left midfielder or as a number ten(attacking midfielder). For the last two seasons in Argentina he was one of the best midfielders in terms of passing and progressive runs, he a lot of defensive work as well. So, it will be very interesting to see if he will manage to continue his performances in Europe, and further analysis will help us to understand what to expect of him there.

In Bayer 04, he will more likely play as one of the 8’s in the 4-2-3-1 formation:

Exequiel Palacios 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Palacios possible position in Bayer system (Credit: buildlineup.com)

He can bring a lot to Bayer: quick passing, defending and definitely large amount of running and covering space. At the same time, he will have to adapt to the new style of play. We will see in more depth the perspective of what this midfielder can do for his future squad.

Passing

Palacios possesses a wide range of passing abilities: long balls, through balls, and he is good at short passing as well. Having played in a more of an attacking position before, it definitely helps him to dictate the play from a slightly deeper position. He doesn’t have the most number of assists this season, but in terms of ball progression (passes to the final third and forward passes), he is the best among all the River Plate midfielders.

In this example, he shows his great ability to simultaneously make a decision and make a perfect long ball to release the striker:

Exequiel Palacios 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Exequiel Palacios 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Palacios has a handful of easier options to pass to, but he quickly analyses the pitch and picks the most difficult one. This results in a very dangerous shooting position and scoring opportunity. (Credit: Wyscout)

River Plate attacks rely heavily on vertical passes, the goal is to bypass opposition midfield as fast as possible. Most of their attacks are happening in transitions, in moments when the opposite team are not yet formed their defensive formation. So it is important for River Plate to play the ball quickly and with a minimal amount of passes.

They also need a player responsible for the last pass. And this player is usually Palacios. One of his distinctive features is his ability to make through passes. Once he receives the ball in the central area, he turns and plays the ball higher straight away. He makes them consistently and even though they are not always successful, his passes allow his team progress forward quickly and create clear-cut chances. Here are a few examples:

Exequiel Palacios 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Palacios gets the ball after a rebound and plays a through ball in between two players to get his teammate into 1v1 situation and that results in the second goal for Argentina (Credit: Wyscout)

The important thing is that it is not randomly occurring actions. Palacios makes such passes on a regular basis in almost every game. His teammates are aware of his passing ability and vision, so they regularly make such runs in behind the defence.

Exequiel Palacios 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Here is another example of Palacios’s through ball. (Credit: Wyscout)

It is quite clear from his gameplay that he is tasked to make such passes. We can see that in the example below:

Exequiel Palacios 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Exequiel Palacios 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Palacios receives the ball and, instead of playing it straight away or just making a short pass, waits for the right moment and then makes a pass to the left-back Casco. You can also see that three other attackers are also ready to make runs in behind (Credit: Wyscout)

If his team is in the rare moments of possession and is looking for attacking opportunities, Palacios is able to quickly distribute the ball from one side of the pitch to another with long balls. This ability adds another dimension to his play because he is also good not only in fast attacks but in possession too, which is helpful. He makes such passes with good timing and technique:

Exequiel Palacios 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Palacios hits the ball long to his fullback, helping the ball’s movement (Credit: Wyscout)

In terms of short passing, his passing style is very similar to his other types of passes. It only takes him 2-5 seconds to make a decision and find a partner who can pass the ball to. A lot of his passes are one-touch passes, so the Gallardo’s idea of fast vertical football finds its embodiment in Palacios play. He understands the team’s tactics and plays exactly the style of football that his coach wants him to play. This is a huge compliment considering his young age.

So, we can draw a conclusion that he is a vital part of this River Plate team when it comes to moving the ball forward.

Exequiel Palacios 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
60 % of all forward passes are directed to the final third. You can tell that Palacios passes are highly efficient when it comes to ball progression (Credit: MRKT Insights)

He is perfectly suited in Gallardo’s tactics and has a clear role and a sense of what to do on the pitch.

As for Bayer, it gets a little tricky. Most of the goalscoring opportunities Palacios creates for his partners are coming from using transition phases. whereas Bayer tactics are keen on possession a lot more. There are two ways that Palacios can be implemented in the Bayer’s system: either his limitations in his possession play will be hidden by other players or their tactics in general, or he will need to improve this element of his play massively in order to be a fully functional element of the team.

Shooting and dribbling

As his main duties on the pitch are passing and defending, in terms of shooting Palacios really can’t boast something spectacular. He has 1 goal this season, the same amount he scored last season. Most of his shots come from situations like in the example below when he supports the attack at a second pace.

Exequiel Palacios 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Here you can see Palacios supports the attack and, while four of his teammates are already in the penalty area, he is moving in a way that will allow him to shoot right outside of the 18-yard box (Credit: Wyscout)

The analysis of his shooting constitutes that Palacios averages around 2 shots per game, and a lot of his shots are usually blocked, which is obvious when we see the positions from which he shoots from. It is almost always outside of the penalty area, so there are a lot of defenders that don’t allow the ball to go on target. But he still has a lot of threat when going forward, because his shots have a lot of power and in most cases are accurate.

One of the few flaws in Palacios play is his dribbling abilities. He only makes 2.85 dribbles per game with 53.33 % success rate (Credit: MRKT Insights). It will be interesting to see how Argentinian midfielder deal with his weakness when he goes over to Bayer 04. The German side, in contrast to his current team, spends much more time in possession and makes a lot more passes per one sequence of possession. He will have to play in compact spaces where a player like him definitely needs good dribbling. I think with the right attitude he can overcome this issue and add one more dimension to his play.

Defending

Even though Palacios mostly plays in more of an attacking role, he still manages to cover the whole pitch in the game, so he can be called “box-to-box” type of attacking midfielder. Such players are known for their ability to contribute to the attack and in the defence at the same time. We already saw what Palacios can do in the attack, and it is time we look at his defensive abilities. It is important that he not only can pass or shoot but defend properly as well.

Even though he still leans more towards attack, he manages to work hard defensively as well. He has a very aggressive, energetic style of play, and this attitude doesn’t change for defending matters. He has defensive duels won rate at 68 %, which basically means that two out of three times when he tries to get the ball, two of them are successful. Given his endless energy and passion, he becomes a very tough player to pass through. We can see that in the example below:

Exequiel Palacios 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Exequiel Palacios 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Palacios follows his opponent and makes a perfectly-timed slide tackle and gets the ball back to his team (Credit: Wyscout)

Palacios is also a very agile player, and that helps him to be tenacious in 1v1 situations while not losing balance. So if even he gets outplayed by his opponent, he quickly turns around and keeps chasing his opponents until he either wins the ball or fouls. Generally, he just tries to make life difficult for the opponents as much as possible.

Exequiel Palacios 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Exequiel Palacios 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Palacios follows his opponent and makes the successful stand tackle (Credit: Wyscout)

An important aspect of River Plate’s defensive play is pressing. They always try to keep the high intensity of pressing and don’t let their opposition have too much time on the ball.

This philosophy can lead to situations like in the images below when the midfielder presses until the goalkeeper:

Exequiel Palacios 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Exequiel Palacios 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Here we can see that Palacios presses centre-back and then the goalkeeper, forcing him to make a mistake. It is interesting to notice that the second pressing man starts his movement only when it is clear that defence starts to panic. Until then, Palacios presses alone (Credit: Wyscout)

With his stamina, he is able to press like that the whole game, he is the motor of this River Plate team.

This is one trait where his presence will improve his next team, Bayer, the most. His defensive work volume is higher than those of current Bayer midfielders, Aranguiz and Baumgartlinger(who are also 30 and 31 and can’t be as physical as him).

Conclusion

In this scout report, we looked at the most vital aspects of the game for a midfielder, and Exequiel Palacios is good at most of them. He will play a very important part in the Peter Bosz squad, as he possesses a lot of talent and has an incredible work ethic. It will be a challenge for him to play in Europe, he will have to adjust his gameplay because Bayer plays in a completely different style of football. But I think he is capable of overcoming any difficulties and hopefully, Bayer won’t be the last stop in his European career. He can become the kind of player that Argentian desperately needs in their midfield, the connecting link between the defence and the attack as the La Albiceleste will pursue their dream of winning big trophies in the next decade.


Total Football Analysis Magazine #16: December 2019

If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Buy your copy of the December issue for just ₤4.99 here

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