Xabi Alonso’s ‘Unsung Hero’ – Liverpool’s Perfect Transfer

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The Objectives for Liverpool’s Summer Transfer Window

It’s difficult to predict anything at Liverpool right now since we don’t quite know who the club’s next manager will be. That being said, even this early on we can make an assumption that the Reds could potentially be looking at another midfielder this summer.

Even with four new midfielders coming in last summer, the club’s options are a bit light heading into a crucial part of the season right now. Injuries to Curtis Jones and Dominik Szoboszlai have definitely exposed Liverpool, with the club still lacking adequate depth in the department.

This summer Liverpool’s options are expected to dwindle further with Thiago Alcantara’s contract expiring, and the Spaniard not expected to extend his stay.

All of that means that Liverpool will be exploring the market for potential midfield candidates. The club’s scouts may already be looking at players who could fit the profile of Liverpool’s potential future managers.

Photo: IMAGO

What Type of Midfielder do Liverpool Need?

Even though Wataru Endo has been exceptional since arriving at the club, and Alexis Mac Allister has done a stellar job in the number six position – Liverpool still probably need another defensive minded midfielder.

Maybe not a complete holding midfield specialist, but definitely someone who excels in that side of the game as well – while being able to offer more on the ball, too.

Essentially, what Liverpool need is pretty much a replacement for Thiago. But players like Thiago are rare. If anything, a player like Thiago comes around once in a lifetime. So, Liverpool will never be able to find a like-for-like replacement exactly. But more of an imitator.

One player who fits that profile and does a lot of the things that Thiago does is currently playing under Xabi Alonso at Bayer Leverkusen.

Exequiel Palacios Should be on Liverpool’s Radar

There are many players at Bayer Leverkusen who have grabbed the headlines this season. The likes of Victor Boniface, Jeremie Frimpong and Florian Wirtz have been the standout performers.

But in Exequiel Palacios, Alonso has a player who has been his ‘unsung’ hero. Quietly, Palacios has been one of Alonso’s best players so far, and has been key to the Spaniard’s success – especially in establishing the kind of short-passing build-up play that Alonso has been looking to implement at Leverkusen.

Slotting into a double pivot in Leverkusen’s midfield, Palacios has usually been playing alongside Granit Xhaka, with the Swiss international being normally the more advanced out of the two players. Palacios meanwhile has settled into a defensive role while also playing a key role as the first point of contact between the defence and the midfield. He’s usually the player who instigates Leverkusen’s build-up play, and who helps Alonso’s side beat the opponents’ press.

To summarise, on the ball Palacios pretty much does what you would expect the holding midfielder in Jurgen Klopp’s system to do at Liverpool right now.

Palacios’ Strengths

In Europe’s top five leagues this season, only one midfielder in Toni Kroos has averaged more forward passes (28.87 per 90) than Palacios (26.81 per 90) so far. Palacios also ranks in third place for progressive passes, making 10.47 per 90, just behind Kroos (12 per 90) and Kevin Stoger (12.04 per 90).

Meanwhile, Palacios ranks in the 99th percentile for passes made per 90 (87.88) in total according to FBref.

Already based on that, it’s easy to see just why Palacios has been such a key cog in Alonso’s machine this season. The 25-year-old Argentine makes things work in possession. This is why I’ve compared him in a previous Media Matters podcast to Thiago, who has averaged around 20 forward passes per 90 in his Liverpool career in the Premier League so far.

Palacios’ technique isn’t as clean as Thiago’s but he is equally effective at playing penetrative passes in between lines and keeping the ball ticking.

Photo: IMAGO

Palacios’ Excellent Defensive Game

Defensively, Palacios is a mixture of Endo and Mac Allister. He’s quick to anticipate danger and reads the game really well, too.

As per FBref, he ranks in the 92nd percentile in the Bundesliga for interceptions (1.67 per 90) and in the 95th percentile for tackles (3.28 per 90).

All together Palacios has averaged 4.74 interceptions and tackles won per 90 this season, which is higher than Mac Allister (4.62 per 90) and Endo (3.16 per 90). Meanwhile, he’s also won 65% of his defensive duels as per Wyscout. Which is again more than Endo (55%) and Mac Allister (58%).

Meanwhile, for Bayer Leverkusen Palacios has won the most tackles (24) and the most interceptions (27) in the Bundesliga this season.

Again, it’s easy to see based on the numbers just why Palacios has been so key in making Alonso’s system work. He simply acts at the last line in midfield and as a protection around the back-four, capable of breaking up opposition offensive transitions quickly in order to regain possession for Leverkusen.

Photo: IMAGO

This Summer is the Perfect Opportunity for Liverpool

A World Cup winner already, Palacios is on course to complete a special season with Bayer Leverkusen. At 25-years-old, he is definitely ready for the next step in his career, and Anfield could be the perfect destination.

Especially if Alonso does end up succeeding Klopp at the helm of Liverpool. Out of his Bayer Leverkusen team, many will want the big stars to follow him to Anfield. However, Palacios could be the smartest choice of them all.

He would fill a void in a position where this season had made it clear Liverpool still very much need strengthening in. He’s already been followed by the club’s scouts in the past with The Athletic reporting that Liverpool were interested in Palacios last summer.

So this one might be one to watch in the coming weeks and months ahead.

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