Searching for the perfect role
The year 2017 began rather soberingly for Kimmich; after he was regularly used in the first half of 2016/17 due to various injuries of his fellow players, the player from Rottweiler had to take a seat on the bench in the important games of the second half of the season. In the Champions League, he only had 49 minutes to play in the knock-out stages and he did not even play in the first leg against Madrid. The young international was also on the bench against Dortmund in the semi-final of the DFB Pokal.
There was no room for Kimmich in the crowded Bayern XI.
This place only became vacant when Philipp Lahm ended his unparalleled career in May and the position of the right full-back had to be filled. In the club, the chairman of the board Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, among others, campaigned to fill this position with Kimmich.
A position that the former Stuttgart youth player had held only five times in the pre-season under coach Ancelotti. The Italian gave the all-rounder a central midfield stint – the position in which Kimmich himself saw himself the strongest. A first small parallel to Lahm, who was at home in several positions throughout his career and nevertheless saw his strengths in the center.
Only in the national team, Kimmich had gained experience in the full-back position. For the first time at the European Championships in France in 2016 and then for the entire 2016/17 season, in which he played all the games for the German national team in this role.
A lock as a full-back
The 22-year-old quickly became a constant on the right side of the back four. On October 18th against Glasgow Kimmich did not play a full game for the first time, but was replaced after 80 minutes.
At the beginning of the season, when FC Bayern’s performances varied widely, it was young Kimmich of all people who always delivered constantly. In a phase in which Bayern missed a signature, he was often able to boost the Munich game from his position.
Being able to shape a game as an outside defender has been Philipp Lahm’s outstanding ability for years. Like few others in Europe, he was able to combine passing security and offensive accents with the highest defensive level and strong positional play. Bayern would miss a player like Lahm, the unanimous opinion was in May.
However, after the first half of the season without the captain of the 2014 World Cup team, the calls for him are far less painful than expected. This can’t be credited to Kimmich enough.
From day one and match one against Leverkusen, he showed everything that Jogi Löw sees in him as a defender for the national team.
His game is strongly influenced by his strong offensive drive. Even more than Lahm, Kimmich not only regularly wants to under and overlap his offensive wing partner, but also pushes up again and again towards the box.
His crosses, even if they are sometimes too heavily focussed, are already reminiscent of the legendary Willy Sagnol half-space crosses, which always sailed dangerously through opposing penalty areas all over Europe. Kimmich has already assisted six goals in the Bundesliga this season. By way of comparison: David Alaba’s best score for the season is six assists – and the Austrian is certainly not a pure defensive specialist. Lahm himself also managed to create only twice more than six assits: eight in 2011 and eleven in the triple season 2013.
In all competitions Kimmich is already at 10 assists and dangerously close to the prediction of our author Justin.
Further potential exists
In defence Kimmich, similar to Lahm, bets on avoiding direct one-on-one duels against physically superior wingers through good positional play and a high engagement. The few direct duels with strong opponents showed that the 22-year-old can still improve here. Too unfamiliar was the isolated direct duel for him. He made minor mistakes against Neymar in Paris.
For a player at this stage of his career, it is of course more than forgivable to lose a duel against a world-class winger. Here, the experience gained over time will help him as well as the more compact defensive concept of Heynckes, which should lead to less isolated defensive actions. Nevertheless, Kimmich can’t hurt to adopt the Lahm tackle from his predecessor.
At the other end of the field, Kimmichs strong inclination to crosses is always apparent. While these were responsible for some goals, he should still pay attention to a reasonable measure. Especially in games where Bayern Bavaria tended to move the ball uninspiringly, Kimmich often tried to put an end to this monotony with a cross. Sometimes the simple pass backwards, including rebuilding the attack, makes more sense than a hopeless flank.
One reason for this could also be that Kimmich has not yet found a permanent partner on the sideline. The regular right winger Robben was injured for long periods of the season and Coman was increasingly placed on the left side. Thus, the attacking partner frequently switched between James, Müller and even Tolisso – three players whose interpretation of the role differed considerably. This makes it difficult for Kimmich to adapt to a type of player and develop his own supporting function.
You can’t expect all these steps from Kimmich at once and not this season. Nevertheless, the young Swabian has all the prerequisites for identifying and unlocking his potential himself. Until then we would like to congratulate the Miasanrot rising star of the year.