Is Bayern Munich's Joshua Kimmich the world's best right-back? bundesliga.com compares the Germany international with the other contenders: Dani Alves, Dani Carvajal, Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker.
Even though he stood at just 5'7", the retirement of Philipp Lahm in 2017 left a monumental hole on the right of the Bayern defence. The man who captained Germany to their fourth FIFA World Cup title in 2014 departed with his experience of 517 appearances for the Munich club, a joint-record eight Bundesliga titles, six DFB Cups, the UEFA Champions League and more.
Some of Europe’s biggest clubs have in the past failed to replace such credentials, and more importantly the leadership they brought to the team. You need only look at Gary Neville at Manchester United and Javier Zanetti at Inter Milan, for example. Even years after their retirements, neither club has found a long-term successor of the same calibre. Bayern, however, look to have done the impossible.
Despite initial doubts about taking on the right-back role, Kimmich, originally a defensive midfielder, has taken to his new position. “Two years ago and even during Euro 2016 I thought being a right-back was okay but in the long run I wouldn’t be the best,” the Germany international said in 2018. “But since then I’ve progressed at right-back and I think there’s a possibility I can play a key role in that position.”
bundesliga.com now makes the case that Kimmich is in fact the world’s best in the role…
While a right-back forms part of a team’s defensive line, there is so much expected of the position going forward in modern football. For many, Alves is the archetypal modern full-back, redefining the role during his years at Barcelona.
The Brazilian has provided 47 goals and 147 assists in just over 700 matches since arriving in Europe with Sevilla in 2002. That gives an average of 0.27 goals or assists per game over the course of his European club career. It’s a remarkable statistic for a full-back and, even with so many games under his belt, trumps the other contenders by some margin (Cancelo: 0.23; Carvajal: 0.19; Walker: 0.12).
That is, all except Kimmich. In 208 career club games, the German has provided 0.28 goals or assists per match. “Just 0.01 more?!” We hear you shout. Okay, let’s narrow down the field a bit to just first-tier league games with the first team. There Kimmich has chipped in with eight goals and 24 assists in 99 appearances (0.32 per game), Alves has 28 goals and 94 assists in 474 league matches (0.26). Kimmich 2-0 Alves.
Watch: Joshua Kimmich starred as Bayern hit Hannover for four on Matchday 15
“But Kimmich hasn’t played all of those at right-back!” A very fair point, but the Bayern man has that base well and truly covered too. Two goals and 20 assists in 47 Bundesliga matches where he’s featured on the right of defence – that’s a phenomenal 0.47 per game. Just by means of comparison, Mario Götze, a forward, averages 0.52 per Bundesliga appearance. In matches where Alves been deployed at right-back in Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A and France’s Ligue 1, he’s contributed 16 goals and 62 assists in 249 appearances (0.31). Hat-trick and clean sheet for J. Kimmich.
Proving just what an asset Kimmich is to Bayern’s attacking game, the right-back has chalked up a Bundesliga-best nine assists in 2018/19 (Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho also has nine). Across Europe’s top five leagues, only Lionel Messi and Eden Hazard have laid on more goals for teammates.
Kimmich also leads the way in terms of passing. While Alves and Cancelo both have a passing accuracy of 88 per cent in the league this season, and Carvajal and Walker are even slightly better (both 89 per cent), all four trail behind the Bayern man’s astounding 92 per cent completion. And for those doubting the numbers, Kimmich’s higher percentage even comes from a greater number of attempted passes (77 per game; Walker: 70; Carvajal: 66; Alves: 60; Cancelo: 50).
No full-back completed more passes than Kimmich in this season’s Champions League group stage (399), and to add to his armoury, he put in a competition-high 48 crosses. Two of which were headed in by Robert Lewandowski in one match against Benfica. In fact, Lewandowski scored four goals in a row across the Bundesliga and Champions League by heading in a Kimmich cross.
“I love the boy. He has desire, he has passion, he has absolutely everything. You can go wherever you want with this player,” Pep Guardiola once said of Kimmich during their time together at Bayern. The story goes that Guardiola even personally intervened to sign the then 20-year-old from RB Leipzig in 2015.
Kimmich arrived in Munich as a midfielder, but Pep saw a different role for him. The Catalan coach turned the youngster into a centre-back, and that was also where he made his senior debut for Germany in 2016.
Joachim Löw’s side, however, had lacked a genuine right-back since Lahm’s retirement from international duty in 2014. Kimmich’s second cap came in the final group game of Euro 2016 against Northern Ireland on the right of the back four, and since then he’s started all but one Germany fixture.
The backing of such illustrious coaches is a feather in the cap of any player, especially one who didn’t believe himself to be a defender. It’s a change from these other four contenders who were already natural right-backs by the time they reached senior football.
This is perhaps reflected in the tackling statistics where Kimmich wins the fewest per game. He’s also only won 52 per cent of his duels this Bundesliga campaign, while Walker, for example, has won 65 per cent for Manchester City in the English Premier League.
Bayern’s 23-year-old, though, has shown a much cooler head and has a remarkable disciplinary record. While Alves has 11 red cards on his long club CV, and 24-year-old Cancelo has already been dismissed on five occasions, Kimmich is yet to see red in his professional career.
He also receives fewer cautions than anyone else with a yellow on average every eight games compared to seven for Walker, five for Juventus’ Cancelo, four for Alves and Carvajal keeping the card industry alive and well with a booking every three matches.
Kimmich’s desire to attack but also not neglect his defensive duties is demonstrated in the distance he covers. Only Leipzig’s Diego Demme – Kimmich's former roommate and a central midfielder – has clocked up greater mileage than the Bayern right-back in the Bundesliga, while Marcelo Brozovic – another midfielder – was the only man to cover more ground than Kimmich in the Champions League group stage.
While Alves has experience and has led his team out on a few occasions as captain for Sevilla and Brazil, those moments have been surprisingly rare for a player of such experience and flamboyance. Walker too has worn the armband on fleeting occasions down the years. None of Carvajal, Cancelo or Kimmich have ever captain their respective teams.
However, that doesn’t reflect the influence Kimmich has within the Bayern and Germany changing rooms. Already a leading voice within at only 24, he’s also being touted as a future captain of both by the man who orchestrated Bayern’s historic treble in 2012/13 as sporting director, Matthias Sammer, who was also the man to bring Kimmich to Munich.
In addition, former Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes once enthused, “He’s got the character of an older player like Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Müller and Manuel Neuer.” It’s high praise from one of Germany’s greatest coaches to compare him to some of the nation’s foremost players of the modern era.
Heynckes’ successor and current Bayern boss Niko Kovac has also seen the importance of Kimmich to his team, and the right-back is the only outfield player to feature in every competitive game this season. He’s in fact played every minute of all but one, which was the DFB Cup second-round tie at fourth-tier SV Rödinghausen where Kimmich came on as a second-half substitute.
This is perhaps a slightly unfair comparison to some extent with Kimmich the youngest and least experienced of the lot. At 35, Alves has won honours in Spain, Italy and France, including the UEFA Cup twice with Sevilla and Champions League three times with Barca, as well as two FIFA Confederations Cups with Brazil and been named in the FIFA FIFPro World XI eight times in the last 10 years.
Carvajal also boasts an impressive haul of the Spanish league and Copa del Rey, as well as four Champions League honours. At international level he’s also been a European champion at U19 and U21 level.
However, Kimmich’s trophy cabinet is nothing to be disappointed with. He too was a U19 European champion and has lifted the Confederations Cup with Germany, while he has three Bundesliga medals and a DFB Cup honour at home from his three full seasons with Bayern.
Put into perspective though, the German’s haul is very impressive compared to those of his competitors when they were his age. At 24, Alves had just won his first UEFA Cup and had previously lifted the FIFA U-20 World Cup with the Selecao. Former Bayer Leverkusen man Carvajal had claimed a Champions League and Copa del Rey in a Real Madrid side beginning their dominance of European football, but one that Kimmich did score against in both legs of the 2017/18 Champions League semi-final.
Even the shoddiest of clairvoyants would be able to tell you that Kimmich’s trophy haul is only going to expand in the years to come. It’s only what the world’s best right-back deserves…