The German international has switched his focus from the wing to the middle of the park.
Widely regarded as the best right-back in the world a few short seasons ago, Joshua Kimmich looks like he might be on the same trajectory in central midfield after his starring role in Bayern Munich’s 1-0 win over Borussia Dortmund.
Kimmich stole the show in the biggest game of the season on Tuesday. Without the usual 81,000-strong 12th man at the Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund’s Klassiker clash with Bayern was always likely to boil down to a straight man-for-man battle on the field.
There is precious little to choose between the sides. Is Robert Lewandowski the most prolific striker in world football or would that be Erling Haaland? Who is the game’s most promising wing-back between Alphonso Davies and Achraf Hakimi? bundesliga.com is loath to call either contest.
But in central midfield, Kimmich stuck out as a world-class difference maker in Dortmund. There was plenty of steel – Kimmich covered more than 8.5 miles in the game, a Bayern club record in the Bundesliga – but it was complemented by a moment of pure silk. Kimmich spotted Roman Bürki off his line and lobbed the BVB keeper with a sublime finish to give Bayern a 1-0 win and, perhaps with it, the title.
“That was the best goal of my career; it was so important,” beamed Kimmich in his post-match interview. “When Josu did this chip, I think there was a long hang-time, but I had a good feeling,” explained Thomas Müller, a player who knows a thing or two about goals. “Roman Bürki is a great keeper. Perhaps he doesn’t have the longest arms, so with the one or two steps he tries to have a better angle, and Josu saw that. It was a beautiful goal.”
Bayern and Germany legend Lothar Matthäus described Kimmich’s goal as “the gateway to the championship.”
This is a player who was signed for a relative pittance from then second-tier RB Leipzig in 2015 and only started 15 of his first 113 Bundesliga outings for Bayern in central midfield – invariably just standing in when players such as Thiago Alcantara, Leon Goretzka and previously Xabi Alonso were needing rests.
Successive Bayern coaches – Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti, Jupp Heynckes and Niko Kovac – had seen Kimmich as the long-term successor to Philipp Lahm at right-back, something national team manager Joachim Löw seemed to concur with, starting him in the position in 30 of his first 34 caps for his country, up to and including the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Thiago is the quintessential midfield metronome. Raised at La Masia and once seen as the long-term successor to Xavi and Andres Iniesta at Barcelona, Guardiola had told Bayern it was “Thiago or nothing” when signing the Spain international in the summer of 2013.
Thiago was injured for Tuesday’s Klassiker, a groin strain keeping him out of the 1-0 victory. The difference this time, however, was that Kimmich was not so much standing in as standing out. In fact, he has been beside Thiago as one half of a double pivot for much of the current campaign under Hansi Flick. And posting better numbers too.
Thiago remains a stunning player. The 29-year-old son of Brazilian World Cup winner Mazinho has completed 91 per cent of his passes. Kimmich has completed 92 per cent. Thiago’s 2,032 touches this season have come in at a rate of 88 per game. Kimmich’s league-best 2,716 have come in at a rate of 101. Kimmich’s average of 7.4 miles covered, meanwhile, leave everyone league-wide – including Thiago – standing.
It would be forgivable to see such averages go down against Bayern’s greatest rivals, but Kimmich enjoyed 102 touches of the ball against Dortmund. And one of them – which needs to be seen to be believed – may just have decided the title.