Exequiel Palacios scores dramatic winner to keep Bayer Leverkusen unbeaten

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Bayer Leverkusen stayed unbeaten at the top of the Bundesliga on Saturday as Exequiel Palacios’ stoppage-time goal clinched a dramatic 1-0 win over Augsburg.

Coach Xabi Alonso ran onto the field in celebration when Leverkusen’s 25th shot of the game finally brought a goal in the fourth minute of second-half stoppage time. Argentina midfielder Palacios picked up the ball near the penalty spot in a crowded box and scored past the previously unbeatable Augsburg goalkeeper Finn Dahmen.

With Patrik Schick replacing the injured Victor Boniface up front, Leverkusen spent much of its first game since the winter break in and around the Augsburg box but couldn’t get past Dahmen. The goal leaves Leverkusen four points clear of Bayern Munich at the top, though Bayern has one more game to play.

Each of Saturday’s games began with a minute’s silence dedicated to Franz Beckenbauer, who died last week at the age of 78. His former club Bayern Munich paid tribute Friday with a win over Hoffenheim in a Bundesliga game dedicated to his memory.

Boniface, Leverkusen’s top scorer, was out with a thigh injury which requires surgery and also ruled him out of representing Nigeria at the Africa Cup of Nations. Boniface was watching the game on TV in a video posted to his Instagram account which showed two crutches leaning against his couch.

The Leverkusen defense was missing regulars Odilon Kossounou and Edmond Tapsoba, who are at the Africa Cup. The new-look back three included Robert Andrich, normally a midfielder, but held up well enough against Augsburg, which only had two shots all game — though there was a brief scare when Phillip Tietz seemed to have scored from an offside play.

Bayern coach Thomas Tuchel had highlighted fourth-place Leipzig as a possible title rival on Thursday, but it didn’t look that way as a 1-0 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt left Leipzig 12 points off the lead. Ansgar Knauff scored for Frankfurt in the seventh off a defense-splitting cross-field pass from left back Niels Nkounkou.

Freiburg moved up to seventh place after a 0-0 draw with Union Berlin, while relegation-threatened Mainz held Wolfsburg to a 1-1 draw. Cologne and Heidenheim drew, 1-1.

Dortmund plays Darmstadt later Saturday seeking its first win since November, in its first game since Jadon Sancho returned to the club on loan from Manchester United.

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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