Joshua Kimmich: A Central Figure in Bayern’s Success
People often discuss the irreplaceability of Manuel Neuer, Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski for Bayern Munich, but Joshua Kimmich’s value is usually overlooked. More so than any other central midfielder in the Bundesliga, Kimmich is integral in the structure of his side’s play and repeatedly provides upfield impetus for the record champions.
When Bayern suffered various player absences during the Covid-19 pandemic at the start of the second half of the 2021-22 season, Kimmich was called to help out in his former regular position at right back. Although there would have been no complaints about lack of involvement – Kimmich touched the ball more often than any other player on the pitch (125 times) – the German was unable to have as much of an impact going forward, posting his third-lowest expected assists total (0.11) of the season. This also had an impact on the team, with the Bavarians losing 2-1 to Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Fast forward two weeks, and Kimmich was back in his favoured central midfield role in the game at Hertha BSC. The move back to the middle of the pitch worked wonders, with Kimmich creating a match-high seven chances for his teammates – two of those assisting goals. Not only this, but with 154 touches, he set a seasonal Bundesliga record. He was everywhere.
“Without a Mission” on the Right Side
Kimmich already admitted during the last European Championship in the summer of 2021 that he now feels much more at home in central midfield than on the right side of the defence, where he had temporarily taken over from Philipp Lahm at the Munich club.
“On the right side, it’s just sometimes that the game takes place away from you, that you are supposedly without a mission in some situations,” he said in a press conference after being somewhat surprisingly installed by Joachim Löw as a right-sided wing back in front of a three-man backline.
With the signing of Benjamin Pavard in the summer of 2019, Kimmich then moved firmly from the right side of defence into the central midfield of Munich, with occasional exceptions, and has since then underpinned his role as the central playmaker of the German side with impressive numbers. Since 2019-20, he’s provided 20 secondary assists – the pass to create the assist for a goal – which is a joint-high across the top five European leagues alongside Julian Brandt.
Set Piece Expert and Provider
Since 2019-20, Kimmich’s total of 26.8 expected assists are surpassed by only team-mate Thomas Müller in Bayern’s attacking midfield (35.4) and Filip Kostic on the left flank of Eintracht Frankfurt (29.2). With Serge Gnabry and Christopher Nkunku in fourth and fifth place, the top five is rounded off by two other players who, unlike Kimmich, play in much more offensive positions that grant them more opportunities to create higher quality chances.
The majority of Kimmich’s danger comes via set-pieces, with just under half (12) of his 25 assists in this period coming via a set-play situation – the most in the Bundesliga, while 65% of his xA total comes from set pieces (15.5). Since the winter break this season, Kimmich has a league-high five assists and three of these have come from set-piece situations.
During Bayern’s 1-1 draw at Hoffenheim in March, Kimmich reached 50 Bundesliga assists –becoming the 12th player in recorded history (since 2004-05) to do this in the competition – while at 27 years and 32 days old he was the fourth youngest to do so. The three to reach the half-century at a younger age were all deployed further up the pitch than Kimmich, too: Thomas Müller, Marco Reus and Mario Götze.
Constantly at the Centre of the Action
Kimmich’s role in Julian Nagelsmann’s Bayern side means that he’s integral to their build-up play.
He’s averaged 108 touches per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga this season, which is more than he’s managed in previous league campaigns, while only under Pep Guardiola in his debut season of 2015-16 (97) has he averaged more passes per 90 minutes than he has this season (85). That debut season under Guardiola saw Kimmich deployed mainly as a central defender, so his passing numbers reflected his role in that Bayern team.
Kimmich’s number of ball actions appears even more impressive when comparing players in Europe’s top five leagues. Among all players from these competitions with at least 1,000 minutes played this season, Kimmich’s 108 touches per 90 minutes are only surpassed by Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti (119) and Manchester City’s Joao Cancelo (111).
In the Bundesliga this season, only four players – all Bayern team-mates – have been involved in more attacking sequences than Kimmich (141), but most interesting is that 91 of these have seen Kimmich involved only in the sequence build-up rather than attempting the shot or creating the chance. This shows how much he’s involved in Bayern’s attacking play in 2021-22, but his role can often be overlooked as they don’t always contribute to one of the more publicly quantifiable metrics like shots or chances created.
Elementary in the Top Class
The picture is similar this season in the Champions League, where Bayern are the only undefeated team left in the competition and recently advanced to the quarter-finals following a 7-1 thrashing of RB Salzburg.
No player has played as many passes into the attacking third in this year’s Champions League campaign as Kimmich (90).
Kimmich’s quality in the final third of the pitch was shown best in the 5-0 win against Dynamo Kyiv at the end of the September, with him playing 25 passes into the final third of the pitch. Across the 2021-22 Champions League campaign so far, only Chelsea’s Jorginho has made more in a game (28).
In addition to his ability to create spaces for his team and create goal-scoring situations with his targeted passing, Kimmich also provides a danger to opposition defences when travelling with the ball at his feet.
In the current UCL season, Kimmich has averaged 21 carries per 90 minutes – among all central midfielders with at least 500 minutes of action, this is only topped by Inter’s Marcelo Brozovic (22).
Across the last three seasons of Champions League football, Kimmich’s creative qualities for Bayern Munich are further displayed. Since 2019-20, he’s posted the best expected assist numbers in the competition (7.9), ahead of the legendary Lionel Messi (7.5).
“Basically, I play him centrally. I’m a big fan of still having players who can play in different positions,” Bayern coach Nagelsmann told reporters ahead of this season, fully aware of the qualities that Kimmich brings to his side, with his versatility a key attribute. It’s time that everyone else begins to appreciate Kimmich’s standing as one of the best current players in Europe.
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