Kimmich shaking off Lahm shadow to establish own Bayern legacy

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Joshua Kimmich Bayern MunichGetty

When the fourth official held up his number in the 80th minute of Bayern Munich’s Champions League game against Celtic on Wednesday, Joshua Kimmich must have been surprised.

The right-back’s substitution has become a rarity and he had shown little sign of exhaustion as he exited to applause having made his mark on another victory.

Kimmich 10/1 first scorer v Hamburg

But Jupp Heynckes was justified in withdrawing a 22-year-old who had played every minute of competitive football for Bayern this season and was playing his fourth match in less than two weeks.

Either scoring or assisting in each of the games he played for Germany and Bayern in that time, Kimmich is on a run of effective displays which further illustrate why he is looked upon as his country’s next great right-back and one of the most exciting young players in the world.

After excelling against Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan in the World Cup qualifiers – continuing a run of 23 games he has started and finished for his country - Kimmich returned to begin club life under Heynckes last week against Freiburg. Linking up with Arjen Robben and Kingsley Coman before a lovely flick finished a move he started in Bayern’s half, he got his name on the scoresheet in the dying seconds as just reward for a great display in which he created five chances.

He was impressive once again from start to finish against Celtic. Perfectly positioned to send a looping header beyond Craig Gordon after 29 minutes, he scored his third goal in all competitions, but he had already been building up to it.

GFX Info Pep Guardiola Joshua Kimmich Bayern

His sublime long passes created plenty of danger before the Rottweil native was deprived of an assist by Robert Lewandowski when the header from his wonderful cross was saved by Craig Gordon. At least it had a hand in the opener as Thomas Muller buried the rebound.

A key creative force, calm under pressure and untroubled defensively, it was a trademark performance from the midfielder-turned-full-back who is strolling through games.

No player in the German top flight has created more chances than Kimmich, according to Opta’s data. His 25 in eight games is an incredible figure for a player in any position, while he has six in three Champions League matches. In both competitions, he is also the most frequent crosser from open play.

Calm on the ball regardless of the pressure he faces, he lifts the tempo of attacks and adds danger to them with his quick turns and instinctive passes. He operates well with Robben on the right side, staying out wide and crossing or running through the half-spaces to combine and bring it into the centre. He is always on the move and his excellent reading of the game sees him pop up in all the right places whether his side are creating a threat or facing one themselves.

"Even in my youth, my speed of thought was better than others’ in some situations,” he said last year. “I responded and anticipated faster than other players. I was not the fastest, but my passing, speed of thought and the ability to anticipate were my strengths.”

Bayern and Germany fans worried about the void left by Philipp Lahm have been put at ease immediately after his retirement with the consistency and obvious class of Kimmich. The comparisons are inescapable, and as a reliable full-back who always makes the right decision and shows leadership, they are only enhanced with every performance.

"I even think Joshua is further on at his age than Philipp Lahm was at the time," Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said of him recently.

Certainly no one can make fans forget about the iconic World Cup-winning captain, and Kimmich is consistently excellent in different ways, which he hopes will see him escape Lahm’s shadow and establish himself as the hero in a different light.

He had been a midfielder at Stuttgart and RB Leipzig before Pep Guardiola moved him into the centre of defence halfway through his first season at Bayern. Although it took a week of intense training to prepare him for it, he excelled quickly and became a regular in the back line. Since the switch to the right-hand side, he has been able to use his attacking qualities to become a great attacking threat – he is already just four goals off Lahm’s career tally for Bayern.

The likes of Lewandowski and Muller have been criticised recently for failing to lead by example, but even as Bayern stumbled before Carlo Ancelotti’s sacking, Kimmich always remained a calm but vocal presence.

Joshua Kimmich Bayern Munich
Joshua Kimmich Bayern Munich

“He's always positive, always focused, always serious. Joshua has absolutely everything,” was Guardiola’s assessment. "I told him that he is one of the best home defenders in the world, but not only that, he can play anywhere.”

In August, former Bayern sporting director Matthias Sammer told Eurosport: "I’m sure he will play a big role in German football. In my opinion he will be a leader.

"He brings characteristics that are very special in attack as well as in defence. The way he presents himself and what he says – and he does it with no aggression at all – Joshua has that in his nature. That is just beautiful.

"The performances, him being humble and simple and his charisma, I really like that."

The 22-year-old is integral for Germany, too. He has been a constant since his second appearance and when he received the captain’s armband during the win over Azerbaijan, it looked a good fit.

“He is simply a classic player," says national team boss Joachim Low. "An incredibly positive aspect of our team."

Having worked with Low, Guardiola, Ancelotti and now Heynckes, his education in the last two years has been exceptional and he has the intelligence to make the best of it and humble enough about his ability to keep improving.

He is of such importance to Bayern that reports in German media of a potential move last summer were met with a statement from the club declaring them “a monstrous fallacy”. Rummenigge was perhaps channelling the anger of Alexander Zorniger, who chastised Stuttgart for letting him join Bayern while he was in charge. The €8.5 million sale was a “fatal mistake” and he later admitted: "I wanted to kill every single person involved in the decision. That was suicide.”

There is little chance of Bayern making that mistake, however, as Kimmich’s place in their present and future is secure. A sublime and versatile player who can do it all, Kimmich is already shaking off Lahm's legacy and building his own.