Joshua Kimmich: What is the Bayern Munich and Germany star's best position?
Joshua Kimmich has emerged as a world-class central midfielder in recent seasons with Bayern Munich, but heading into their UEFA Euro 2020 opener against France, Germany look set to restore him to the right-back spot in which he first rose to fame.
The Rottweil native, now 26, started out as a defensive midfielder, but entered the popular consciousness as a right-back before being used almost exclusively from midfield at Bayern once Hansi Flick took charge in November 2019.
Kimmich had seamlessly filled the vacant right-spot role for club and country following Philipp Lahm's retirement in 2017, and could be asked to play from that right wing-back role once again at UEFA Euro 2020 under Joachim Löw. bundesliga.com looks into which position truly is his best...
Watch: Tactical analysis of Kimmich at right-back
Let's start by looking at the raw facts: Kimmich has now made 74 Bundesliga appearances from defensive midfield, and 68 from right-back. He has assisted 23 goals from midfield and 30 from right-back, while he has been able to set up almost exactly the same number of chances (188 midfield, 189 right-back) from either position.
However, Kimmich has only played at right-back 17 times for Bayern since the beginning of the 2019/20 season, following the arrival of French World Cup winner Benjamin Pavard from VfB Stuttgartt. In Germany colours, his last minutes at the back were at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, so let's look back at just how good he was when starting from the right side of defence.
Kimmich claimed 13 assists over the course of 2018/19 - his last full campaign at right-back, which was second only to Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho and ahead of a number of attackers well established at international level. In 2017/18 it was 13 assists and one goal in 29 league outings. From right-back, he has won the Bundesliga, DFB Cup and also the 2017 Confederations Cup with Germany.
"He's a stroke of luck for Bayern," said former coach Jupp Heynckes of Kimmich in 2017. "He's going to have a big career ahead of him. His character is similar to that of the older players like Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Müller and Manuel Neuer."
It is perhaps little wonder, then, that former Bayern boss Niko Kovac was reluctant to change a winning formula and move Kimmich from the right-back berth when he took charge in July 2018. At the time, Kovac also cited the relative lack of cover at full-back - with just David Alaba and Rafinha otherwise available - as a reason not to tinker. However, in 2019/20 new signings Pavard and Lucas Hernandez came around, as did the appointment of Flick, which moved Kimmich into midfield.
From right-back, Kimmich is able to combine his eye for a pass with a wider angle at his attacking targets in the middle. The 26-year-old has attempted 237 crosses from that position, compared to just 52 from midfield. One aspect of his game which that wider spot on the pitch does hinder is his involvement in build-up play, which is where he was at his best, in particular, in 2020/21.
Kimmich amassed 100 touches per 90 minutes of Bundesliga action this last season, which was a club and league-best across all midfield players. He also provided 10 assists, matching winger Kingsley Coman, and only being bettered by Germany teammate Müller. Formerly a midfielder with RB Leipzig, Kimmich was confident he would get his chance there eventually with Bayern.
"I didn't make this transfer in the belief that I won't play," he said following his move south in 2015. "That wouldn't make any sense. I want to play as much as possible, even at Bayern. Schweinsteiger is a huge role model of mine, but as of next season we're going to be teammates and, to a certain extent, rivals."
For context, this was a previously unheard of 20-year-old throwing down the gauntlet to a midfielder who had played a leading role in Germany winning the World Cup the previous summer. Gulp.
Watch: Tactical analysis of Kimmich as a midfield orchestrator
Far from being youthful bravado, Kimmich has since provided the substance to back up his claim. In the autumn of 2018, Germany coach Löw began playing him in defensive midfield and liked what he saw. "He's now played two games for us as a No.6 and he'll continue to do so because I'm very satisfied and he did everything well that is required in that position," the then 59-year-old said in September 2018.
Löw's enduring faith in Kimmich is understandable. He has outstanding positional and tactical awareness, never shies away from a tackle, has an unshakeable will to win, is blessed with enviable stamina and rarely gives the ball away. What more could you want?
But as we head into Euro 2020, Kimmich could be returning to that right-sided role with Leipzig's Lukas Klostermann the only other favourable option in the position. And with Ilkay Gündogan, Toni Kroos, Leon Goretzka and Florian Neuhaus all options in central midfield, it allows for Löw to pack more quality into his first XI. That quality will be key when facing France, Portugal and Hungary in the 'Group of Death'.
"As long as we win our games, I don't really care whether I play right-back or in midfield,” Kimmich said after Germany’s final warm-up game against Latvia, a 7-1 win.
So where does that leave us? Perhaps the best answer to our original question should be left to one of the game's all-time greats, former Barcelona star Xavi Hernandez, who is a self-confessed Kimmich fan: "He can be one of the best players in world football in several positions, maybe he already is."
And that's why Löw will trust him to perform wherever he is played this summer.
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Official Bundesliga transfer centre: summer 2023
Find out all the ins and outs across Germany's second division ahead of the 2023/24 campaign...
Official Bundesliga transfer centre: summer 2023
Find out all the ins and outs across the Bundesliga ahead of the 2023/24 campaign...