Joshua Kimmich's Brilliance Is Instrumental to Bayern's Champions League Charge

Grey Whitebloom
Joshua Kimmich turned out another impressive performance against Chelsea as Bayern Munich swept past the Blues in the Champions League
Joshua Kimmich turned out another impressive performance against Chelsea as Bayern Munich swept past the Blues in the Champions League / Pool/Getty Images
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When the final whistle blew at the end of a 0-0 draw with Borussia Dortmund in May 2016, Pep Guardiola came charging out of his technical area towards Joshua Kimmich.

Amid a whirlwind of manic gesticulations the then Bayern Munich manager - doing his best impression of the person you desperately avoid at a wedding - looked as though he was scolding the Germany international in typically intense fashion.

However, after the match Guardiola said: "I told him he’s one of the best centre-backs in the world. He’s got absolutely everything.”

Kimmich reached those same lofty standards at right-back on Saturday night, as Bayern Munich comfortably swatted Chelsea aside with a 4-1 win to progress to the Champions League quarter-finals.

The German has shown this season that he's even better as a defensive midfielder.

In Guardiola's first conversation with Kimmich after signing from RB Leipzig, the Catalan told his new recruit that there were other positions he could play instead of his favourite role. During their season together, Kimmich detailed his development under Guardiola to The Guardian, saying: "There are many things – but Pep showed me completely new spaces in the field.

"I improved a lot. He cares about your first touch a lot and that you know what to do even before you get the ball. You have to know where your teammates are, so he wants you to screen the whole field."

After flitting between a number of roles during his first two seasons in Bavaria, the 25-year-old Swiss army knife has spent the previous two campaigns as the side's regular right-back. From this wide role, Kimmich became one of the most potent creative outlets in the Bundesliga and Europe, racking up 25 assists between August 2017 and the start of the current, endless campaign.

Only Lionel Messi and Leroy Sané registered more assists in Europe's top five league than Kimmich across the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons
Only Lionel Messi and Leroy Sané registered more assists in Europe's top five league than Kimmich across the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons / Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Niko Kovac - Bayern's coach at the beginning of the season - felt this was Kimmich's strongest position, claiming that when he left this role 'you lose our best goal provider'. However, one of several key changes implemented by Kovac's successor, Hans-Dieter Flick, has been Kimmich's move to midfield.

The player himself has stressed the greater impact he can wield on proceedings from this position, as he explained to Sport-Bild (via TZ): "I have more influence when I play in the middle of the park. I’m closer to the other players and have more contact with our opponents. I can influence the game much more there.”

So, when right-back Benjamin Pavard was ruled out of the clash with Chelsea, there was little concern that Kimmich would be able to adeptly fulfil the Frenchman's duties. However, the fear was that his dominance on proceedings from the centre would be missed.

On the half-hour mark, Kimmich popped up in the D of Chelsea's penalty area.

Kimmich found himself in a number of positions against a baffled Chelsea
Kimmich found himself in a number of positions against a baffled Chelsea / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Under Flick, Bayern's players regularly interchange position, with striker Robert Lewandowski often drifting onto the flanks, emergency centre-back David Alaba capable of overlapping left-back Alphonso Davies and Thomas Müller going wherever he wants.

Against Chelsea, Kimmich was in midfield, part of a back three, high on the flank - oh, and at right-back now and then. Even when Pavard does play, Kimmich fulfils a similar multitude of roles, as the World Cup winner is regularly camped in the opposition's final third.

Out of possession, Kimmich's head is constantly turning, sharply flicking his gaze around the corner as though he's compiling a series of tiny snapshots to build a collage of his surroundings.

One such rapid glance saw Kimmich spot an opportunity from a corner. Standing over the ball, he orchestrated the swarm of bodies in red to pack the six yard box. As Chelsea's players desperately tried to keep track of Lewandowski, Müller and Niklas Süle, among others, Kimmich floated a pass over all of them to find the forehead of an unmarked Thiago on the penalty spot.

The less than imposing midfielder thumped his header into the ground to squander the opportunity, but it was a bitesize example of Kimmich's quick and creative thinking.

Kimmich and Thiago both enjoyed commanding displays and Chelsea and almost combined for a wonderful goal
Kimmich and Thiago both enjoyed commanding displays and Chelsea and almost combined for a wonderful goal / Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

The pair trotted off together in the 70th minute, with Kimmich's arm draped around Thiago's shoulders and the Spaniard's head buried in his teammate's chest, chuckling as though they'd just wrapped up a five-a-side game after work rather than a Champions League knockout tie.

Guardiola's explosive episode with Kimmich was sparked after the player shifted into midfield but - in his own words - 'was still thinking like a centre-back'. Four years on and Kimmich appears to run through the thought process of countless positions almost instantaneously, wherever he may pop up on the pitch.

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