The Joshua Kimmich Conundrum- Is it Time for Bayern to Unshackle the Fullback Too?

Germany’s recent internationals saw Joachim Löw and die Mannschaft go some way to redeeming their reputation damaged so much at the World Cup with an impressive performance against France and a win over Peru. Another positive development of note has been the deployment of Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich as a number 6 defensive midfielder. The Bundestrainer has intimated this is the future for the national team. The question now arises: could Bayern also benefit from this development?

Raphael Hönigstein’s exceptional book ‘Das Reboot’ focusses on how Germany had to reinvent itself following a disastrous performance at Euro 2000. While not on the same scale, the World Cup in Russia has brought further introspection from the national team with Joachim Löw keen to right the wrongs from the summer debacle.

One of the ‘tweaks’ he made (successfully) against France and Peru was the selection of Bayern’s Joshua Kimmich alongside Toni Kroos in midfield in front of the back four as opposed to his usual right-back role. Rather unsurprisingly, Kimmich was an absolute stand-out leading the Bundestrainer to state that the Bayern man’s future lay in midfield.

“He was very present and very competitive. He was on the ball a lot and did very well. It was certainly a good solution. For me it was a consideration after the World Cup, because we had to take measures in the tactical area to bring about change.”

His Bayern team mate Thomas Müller was equally impressed saying, “He was superb. He was calm on the ball. It was perhaps easier to play at 6 than in other games because we lined up quite narrow with our number 8 and the wide players. That we were able to exert pressure in the game was due to his impeccable play. It’s not news that he has the ability to play there.

“Josh has played in this position in many youth teams and for him it was wonderful news when the trainer said he’d be playing that role against France. He is perfect for the position. He has the qualities without doubt that you need to play as a number 6.”

As they say the ‘stats don’t lie’ and Kimmich’s numbers certainly stand-up. Against World champions France, he had 100 touches, made 88 passes with an accuracy of 94% and didn’t commit a single foul while completing 78% of his duels successfully.

Back to his Roots

Many people will be unaware, or will have forgotten, that the midfield is Kimmich’s natural position and where he feels most at home. His league debut for RB Leipzig back in 2013 saw him in a midfield three alongside Dominik Kaiser and Henrik Ernst against 1FC Heidenheim in the 3.Liga. RB’s then-trainer Alexander Zorniger played Kimmich in midfield for the rest of that promotion-winning season and in the next campaign in Bundesliga II.

His full league debut for Bayern against Darmstadt in the also saw Pep Guardiola pick him as a defensive midfielder number 6 in a 4-3-3 formation behind Arturo Vidal and Sebastian Rode.

The switch from midfield to right-back was instigated by Löw at the 2016 European Championships in France and with Philipp Lahm’s retirement in 2017 Bayern Munich followed suit. Despite claiming at the time that he didn’t want to be a ‘Philipp Lahm clone’, that is just what has happened with Kimmich developing into one of the world’s best attacking full-backs.

2 or 6?

Bayern have followed the Bundestrainer’s lead once, could they do it again and utilise the midfield talents of Kimmich themselves?

In the immediate term, you’d have to think that Nico Kovac will continue to deploy the 23-year-old in his familiar right-back role. Jogi Löw’s switch came about out of the necessity to inject a new impulse into an under-performing side- something Bayern are not. The Bayern machine is in perfect working order so there is no need to tinker with it at the present moment.

Bayern may have sold both Arturo Vidal and Sebastian Rudy in the summer, but in Javi Martinez and Thiago have two exceptional players to play that defensive midfield role. So far this season Kovac has opted to play just the single holding midfielder meaning he has less demand for that position.

The lack of a like-for-like replacement is also a consideration for the Bavarians. Rafinha is the only real cover they have at fullback and he will also be required to cover for David Alaba at left-back.

This is the current situation, but as we know, a lot can change in football. The potential arrival of World Cup winner Benjamin Pavard next season could be just the opportunity for Kimmich to revert to his favoured role in midfield. Pavard does play as a centre-back for VfB Stuttgart, but he showed in the World Cup just how effective he can be on the right-hand side of defence both going forward and defensively.

The argument from many will be: ‘why would you move the world’s best right-back?’ The answer would be that Joshua Kimmich would excel in whichever position you played him. It is a conundrum for Bayern, but a conundrum any other club on the planet would dearly love to have.

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Mathew Burt

A year spent living in Bremen got Mathew hooked on the Bundesliga with regular visits to the Weser Stadion getting in the way of his studies. Back in the UK now, he still keenly follows the Grün-Weißen and German football in general. Follow him on Twitter @matburt74.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful piece. Bayern seem like they lack the numbers to move Kimmich to 6, but as you note things change fast in football.

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