When even director of sport Matthias Sammer feels moved to single out one player for unstinting praise after a game, it's time to sit up and take notice. FC Bayern München's admonisher-in-chief is usually more focused on ensuring all feet remain firmly grounded as the record champions roll from one victory to the next. After the 3-1 win at FC Augsburg on Matchday 21, however, Sammer was happy to make an exception.
“Joshua Kimmich plays like an old pro already. The way he's plugging the gap at the back is really quite remarkable,” the director of sport enthused. Head coach Pep Guardiola could not agree more, going as far as to say, “It would be almost impossible to play better than Joshua Kimmich has over the last three or four games.”
The object of such praise from on high, freshly turned 21, has revealed a timely aptitude for operating as a stop-gap central defender. With Jerome Boateng and Javi Martinez already sidelined, Medhi Benatia only just back in training and loan signing Serdar Tasci still settling in, the last thing Bayern needed was another serious injury to the unfortunate Holger Badstuber. The Germany international's ankle fracture leaves them stretched almost to breaking point in the centre of the defence. Step up, Joshua Kimmich.
Of his 13 league appearances to date, seven have been off the bench: cameos, mostly in midfield, mostly in games where key regulars were being rested. And now – four straight competitive starting turns, all in the heart of the defence. Bayern won three of them, and conceded just a single goal in the process. At Augsburg Kimmich had 128 touches of the ball, more than anyone else on the park, as well as displaying exceptional match intelligence, versatility and a very cool head.
'In incredible investment'
Guardiola, of course, knew what he was getting into. Discussing the summer arrival from RB Leipzig back in November, he noted, “He's got everything a footballer needs. He's very intelligent, aggressive against the ball, good at switching from defence to attack and back. He's an incredible player and an incredible investment for Bayern's future.”
Fulsome praise indeed but Kimmich, a midfielder by trade, is unlikely to let it go to his head. “The team are making it easy for me as well,” he said; “Having so many world-class players out there puts you in a better place as well. You improve pretty much automatically.”
The real acid tests for Bayern's improvised back-row are yet to come, however: against Juventus in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, for starters. A fresh challenge and, for Joshua Kimmich above all, a fresh opportunity to confirm his credentials at the highest level.