Joshua Kimmich: From Stopgap Defender to Game-Changing Midfielder

Stuart Telford@@StuartTelfordFeatured ColumnistSeptember 25, 2016

Kimmich (left) bagged the only goal, two minutes from time, as Bayern edged Hamburg 1-0.
Kimmich (left) bagged the only goal, two minutes from time, as Bayern edged Hamburg 1-0.Associated Press

Joshua Kimmich's late goal in Bayern Munich's 1-0 win over Hamburg was just the latest instalment in a story of a player who has gone from stopgap defender to game-changing midfielder in double-quick time.

"It was a difficult game, especially in the first half as Hamburg played with great intensity," Kimmich told Sky Deutschland (h/t ESPN FC) at the conclusion of 90 minutes in which he scored his second Bundesliga goal of the season and fifth in all competitions for club and country.

"We didn't play well in the first half. We were lacking ideas and created few chances, while Hamburg had one or two good opportunities themselves, but we stepped it up in the second half with three or four excellent chances. Luckily I got the goal at the end."

Bayern's congested run of fixtures—they had back-to-back victories over Ingolstadt and Hertha Berlin in the seven days before this match—meant that their starting lineup was significantly changed from the one that beat the capital club 3-0 at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday.

Jerome Boateng, Xabi Alonso, Arturo Vidal and Franck Ribery made way for Mats Hummels, Kimmich, Renato Sanches and Kingsley Coman. Such is the talent on Bayern's bench that players who came into the team boast eight league titles, a FIFA World Cup and a UEFA European Championship between them.

Signed for €35 million this summer, Sanches has struggled to outshine Kimmich in recent weeks.
Signed for €35 million this summer, Sanches has struggled to outshine Kimmich in recent weeks.JOHN MACDOUGALL/Getty Images

Kimmich, at 21, is older than both Sanches and Coman, but the fact that his trophy cabinet is the least full of the aforementioned quartet speaks to the progress he has made since signing from RB Leipzig—amid little fanfare—for what now looks like a steal at €7 million (in German) in January 2015.

Bayern did not have it all their own way at the Volksparkstadion on Saturday night, with Nabil Bahoui and Nicolai Muller testing the visiting defence in the first half. The Bavarians huffed and puffed, and eventually found a solution when Riberyon for Coman after an hourteed up Kimmich, who was free at the back post to stroke home the winner from close range.

It may not have been the most spectacular of Kimmich's five goals this season, but it was nothing if not deserved. The versatile youngster had 103 touches of the ballmore than any other Bayern playerfinding a team-mate with 84 percent of his passes, as per Opta Franz.

He also covered nearly a kilometre more than his next hardest-running colleague, Thomas Muller, and had a team-high 75 fast runs and five shots on goal as well as putting in 11 challenges at the other end, according to the Bundesliga website.

Such statistics paint the picture of a complete midfielder, and one who is a long way from the dressing down received by then-coach Pep Guardiola after playing out of position at centre-back in the goalless Der Klassiker draw with Borussia Dortmund in March.

Guardiola publicly remonstrated with Kimmich more than once last season.
Guardiola publicly remonstrated with Kimmich more than once last season.Thanassis Stavrakis/Associated Press/Associated Press

Catalan coach Guardiola tried to diffuse that flash point in the aftermath, per Goal.com: "I love Joshua Kimmich. He has everything to achieve everything he wants. He's played against big strikers in the Champions League and against [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang today. Please don't tell me he isn't a centre-back."

However, a little over six months on, and it is difficult to imagine Kimmich needing a public dressing down from anybody, let alone being told that his best position is anything but central midfield—although in fairness to Guardiola, it was not always thus.

Born in Rottweil in Baden-Wurttemberg 100 kilometres south of Stuttgart, Kimmich signed for local club VfB Stuttgart aged 12. He was snapped up by Leipzig in 2013 having never played a senior game for the Swabians, and although he featured 53 times in two seasons for the Red Bull-backed club, there was still some surprise when he made what was a two-division leap halfway through the 2014/15 campaign.

Expecting to feature somewhere between Bayern Munich II and the first-team bench, Kimmich was thrust into action as a makeshift defender in light of injuries to Boateng, Javi Martinez and Holger Badstuber last term.

The midfielder's pace, reading of the game and willingness to learn soon became apparent, and he ended the season with 14 clean sheets from the 23 Bundesliga games in which he featured, helping Bayern to a record fourth consecutive Bundesliga title as well as the DFB-Pokal.

The arrival of Hummels (left) has not hindered Kimmich's progress at Bayern.
The arrival of Hummels (left) has not hindered Kimmich's progress at Bayern.CHRISTOF STACHE/Getty Images

With Boateng returning to fitness and Hummels returning from Dortmund after eight years away from his first club this summer, Kimmich's path into the first team nonetheless looked likely to be blocked under new coach Carlo Ancelotti.

Throw in the €35 million arrival of Sanches from Benfica, and the chances of Kimmich getting a run out further forward looked equally slim. Barely a month into the new season, though, and Kimmich has put a player Bayern reportedly paid five times as much for in the shade.

World champions Germany kicked off the defence of their title with a 3-0 win over Norway at the start of September in Group C of the European section of qualifying for Russia 2018. Kimmich's goal, lashed low into Hertha Berlin goalkeeper Rune Jarstein's bottom corner, was a boost to his confidence, but few would have anticipated that it was such a portent of things to come.

The following Friday he added gloss to the scoreline in Bayern's 2-0 win at Schalke with a near-carbon copy of his Germany strike, and he concluded an incredible 10-day span having scored his first international, German top flight and UEFA Champions League goals after helping himself to a brace in the 5-0 rout of Rostov.

The completeness of Kimmich's rapidly expanding goal library also stands out. The first two of his five strikes were rifled shots from tight angles, the latter three penalty-box finishes that would do Bayern cohort Robert Lewandowski proud.

At the start of the season Kimmich was being tipped to be Philipp Lahm's long-term successor for club and country at right-back, but lately he is looking significantly more like the Toni Kroos who left Bayern for Real Madrid in 2014, although at this rate one might reasonably be hoping for the next Kimmich to graduate from the academy sooner rather than later.

"He's a lucky player because he can play many different positions," Ancelotti told Sport 1 (in German) before the Schalke game.

Now the second-top scorer in the squad after Lewandowski, it would not be safe to back against Kimmich lining up anywhere but central midfield in the weeks and months ahead. The early passages of Kimmich's career are now being written, and it is making for a thrilling page-turner.