"I'm telling you I could do it, Raf" - might Serge Gnabry (r.) deputise at right-back in place Joshua Kimmich for Bayern Munich against Liverpool? - © imago/Claus Bergmann
"I'm telling you I could do it, Raf" - might Serge Gnabry (r.) deputise at right-back in place Joshua Kimmich for Bayern Munich against Liverpool? - © imago/Claus Bergmann
bundesliga

Who can replace Joshua Kimmich for Bayern Munich against Liverpool in the Champions League?

Joshua Kimmich's yellow card in the first leg of Bayern Munich's goalless draw at Liverpool was the one black spot to come out of the Bundesliga title-holders' UEFA Champions League Last 16 trip to Anfield.

It was the tigerish Germany international's third caution of the competition this season and means he will be forced to sit out the return at the Allianz Arena on 13 March. The enforced absence of Kimmich, who has a Bundesliga-high 10 assists this season, is a major blow to Bayern, and gives Niko Kovac a conundrum: how do I replace him?

bundesliga.com looks at the different options the Bayern boss has.

Joshua Kimmich will miss out in the second leg of Bayern Munich’s UEFA Champions League last 16 tie with Liverpool through suspension. - DEUTSCHE FUSSBALL LIGA

The obvious: Rafinha

This is exactly why Bayern extended the Brazil international's contract by 12 months last May. With Benjamin Pavard being lined up to come to Bayern in summer 2019, back-up for Kimmich was needed, and after seven seasons in Munich, the Bundesliga champions know the 33-year-old provides the cover and comfort of a man-size sheepskin rug.

Back-up to Kimmich he undeniably is, but say second-choice at Bayern and you are talking about first-choice at virtually any other club in the world. With over 300 Bundesliga appearances added to 65 UEFA Champions League games — that's 15 more than Mats Hummels, Thiago and James Rodriguez… just saying — second-choice certainly does not mean second-rate.

Thirty-three-year-old Rafinha has started three of Bayern Munich’s UEFA Champions League games so far this season. - DEUTSCHE FUSSBALL LIGA

He is leaving the club in the summer, but his commitment is never found wanting. His "incredible battling display" — as then-coach Jupp Heynckes described it — in last season's goalless draw in the quarter-final with Sevilla to see Bayern safely into the last four came from left-back as he covered for David Alaba.

"I'm a worker, I'm a fighter," is how the ex-Schalke man defines himself, and one thing he isn't is a sulker as he relishes his bit-part role. "I'm always there, I'm always ready when the coach needs me." Kovac most definitely needs him now.

Niko Kovac said in his pre-match press conference that he had not yet decided which of his "three world-class centre-backs" will play. The answer could be, 'All of them', though not all at the heart of the back four.

The makeshift 1.0: Jerome Boateng

Boateng has played nearly a half-century of Bundesliga games at right-back, though most of those were for Hertha Berlin and Hamburg with his last appearance for Bayern in that role coming in 2012.

But a return to his youth is no cause for concern for the 30-year-old. "I would have no problem with that," he told kicker. "If I can help the team from this position, I'm ready."

While there may be a question about whether he has the pace of his youth, the six-plus miles he has racked up per game this season suggest he still has the engine required not to disappoint in a new energy-sapping brief.

Jerome Boateng has already played right-back at Hamburg and Hertha Berlin. - imago/Contrast

His outstanding 69 per cent ratio of challenges won and stunning 88 per cent pass completion rate is more than sufficient evidence his bark and bite remain intact and have done nothing to diminish his ability to deliver the ball with pedantic precision.

The makeshift 2.0: Leon Goretzka

Would it be such a stretch of the imagination to see the Germany midfielder in an unfamiliar role? It certainly doesn't require much mental yoga for Kovac, who has already employed Goretzka at full-back this season. He even played the right-footed ex-Schalke man at left-back in the 1-1 draw at home to Augsburg earlier in the campaign.

"I thought he did well," said Kovac of his guinea pig, who was a little less impressed with himself: "It's clear that I'm no David Alaba." Perhaps not, but could he be a Kimmich?

Leon Goretzka has already proven his versatility to Bayern Munich head coach Niko Kovac this season. - 2018 DFL

Starting on his natural side would make it easier for him to provide the crosses that the man he would replace delivers so unerringly, and the vision that he exhibits in his usual role in midfield suggests he has the smarts to do that from unchartered territory. His high-energy performances that see him zip from box to box also add weight to the case that he also has the physical qualities needed to make him a high-quality stand-in.

The downside? Well, he wouldn't be able to also play in midfield, where he has been so impressive for Bayern this season.

The outlandish: Serge Gnabry

Just hold on, before you write it off completely…this option would be the most daring and would require a tactical switch that Kovac — unlike many of his counterparts in Europe's top leagues — has yet to make.

If Bayern switched to three at the back — a set-up Kovac did use at Eintracht Frankfurt — Gnabry would make the ideal wing-back on the right flank. The Germany international's time with Hoffenheim saw him play twice as a wing-back, going unbeaten against Hertha Berlin and Mainz. His talents going forward are undisputed, but the selfless work he does in tracking back often stands in the shadow of the spectacular fireworks he produces going forward. And his lung-bursting on-pitch efforts extend beyond the white line.

Serge Gnabry played at right-back during his time with Hoffenheim, and is in-form after scoring against Borussia Mönchengladbach on Matchday 24. - imago images / Uwe Kraft

"I now have a friend in the gym," impressed Bayern teammate Arjen Robben said of Gnabry. "He's very hard-working. He always wants to work on himself, he has a very good attitude, he's a real pro."

Sprinting back to support Kimmich in the face of opposing forwards game after game means he would not be fazed by unfamiliar surroundings, and his 40 per cent ratio of 'challenges won' is a more than respectable stat for a man whose instincts tell him 'Create'. With a third central defender, Bayern would require him to be less defensive than if he played as a classic right-back, and would give him the chance to exploit his strengths.

Yes, it's a risk, especially given Liverpool's reliance on left-back Andrew Robertson to provide them with width and menace in the final third. But just imagine the doubt in the mind of the Scotland international when he goes forward knowing Gnabry has the pace and the talent to wreak havoc in the space behind him if Jürgen Klopp's side lose the ball?