Joshua Kimmich: Is he the true heir to Philipp Lahm's throne at Bayern?
- When Philipp Lahm retired, questions were raised regarding his replacement.
- Is Joshua Kimmich, who seems to fit the mould perfectly, an appropriate long-term replacement?
Philipp Lahm is one of the greatest German players in recent times and his career shows a perfect example of how a position change should be executed in the latter years of a player's career. The World Cup winner spent the majority of his playing days at right-back for VfB Stuttgart (on-loan) and Bayern Munich.
However when Pep Guardiola arrived in Bavaria, he identified Lahm as the pivot of his sensational side - recognising his ability to read the game flawlessly, deplyoing him as a defensive midfielder. This proved a fantastic move, as Die Roten dominated the domestic competitions while developing a new identity.
Lahm's stats show a clear pattern as his transition from defence into midfield was a successful one. Since he was responsible for dictating the tempo of play, his average passes per game increased significantly - up from 65.4 in 12-13 to 79.5 in 13-14 season. His passing accuracy also saw a 2% increase, up from 89.7%, although his defensive output dropped from 3.7 tackles and interceptions per game to 2.5 in the same time period.
The types of pass he was playing also changed. He completed 5.5 long passes-per-game in the 2012-13 campaign, which dropped to 5.1 (13-14) and 2.4 (14-15) under Pep's watch.
Contrastingly though, the number of short passes he completed increased significantly while his attempted crosses naturally dropped (from 4.5 to 1.3 per game), not being tasked with creating width from the flanks.
Joshua Kimmich's arrival and a natural transition
In the summer of 2015, Bayern signed Kimmich from Lahm's old loanee side Stuttgart in a deal worth around €8m. The youngster quickly displayed plenty of promise and comparisons to Lahm were almost instant. Although he still had plenty to learn, being under Guardiola's influence and having Lahm as a mentor helped him develop much quicker than expected.
Importantly, the introduction of new talent didn't restrict Lahm's playing time. Instead, the number of Bundesliga minutes he played increased from 1,408 to 2,200 following Kimmich's arrival.
During his debut campaign at the Allianz Arena, Kimmich made 15 league starts and a further eight substitute appearances, providing two assists. His defensive contribution was solid, averaging 2.1 tackles and interceptions-per-game. However it was the youngster's passing ability that stood out: averaging 66.6 passes with an impressive 92.2% accuracy.
The 2016/17 season
The following campaign was Lahm's final season as a professional, as he retired from the sport in the concluding summer. Nevertheless, Kimmich made 26 league starts and his consistency was unquestionable during a season under new management as Carlo Ancelotti was hired to replace the Manchester-bound Guardiola.
This was the season where Kimmich began to truly shine on the world stage. Earning selection as part of Joachim Low's Euro 2016 squad, he made four appearances in Portugal as Germany were knocked out in the semi-finals.
The 2017/18 season
A gaping hole in the Bayern midfield was expected to form following Lahm's retirement, but Kimmich stepped up and delivered when called upon. It was his breathtaking displays which helped him win the coveted German Player of the Year accolade in 2017, while taking the Bundesliga by storm - scoring one and assisting 10 goals throughout the campaign.
As he underwent a position change similar to Lahm, his passing numbers also changed to match the pattern we mentioned earlier with the former Germany captain. His average of 61.8 passes per game was up from 51.2 the previous campaign, while his defensive numbers dropped from 2.4 tackles and interceptions to 1.8 per game as there was more focus on his ability to progress into forward roles.
In a 2018 interview, Bayern legend Paul Breitner was glowing in his praise for Kimmich and unsurprisingly, drew parallels to Lahm with this statement:
"He is his [Lahm's] successor. He's got great ability, understands tactics, the phases of the game and has the intuition of when to change the rhythm.
When we think about Lahm, we think about the expert player of 29, 30 or older. We don't talk about the full-back of 21. I watch Kimmich and he has the same qualities as Lahm. He may or may not develop - but at 23, he has everything to be the second Lahm."
The 2018/19 season
The 2018/19 season saw Kimmich play in every minute of each Bundesliga game, as Bayern lifted their seventh consecutive league title. His stats reflected his ever-growing quality, as his passing averages continued to increase (74.1 per game, 2.4 key passes) - while creating 14 assists and scoring two goals too.
As for his defensive stats, he also averaged 2.4 tackles and interceptions a game over the course of the campaign.
The 2019/20 season
Before this season was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic, Bayern were increasingly impressive despite an early spell of inconsistency.
They were four points clear atop the Bundesliga and have a three-goal advantage ahead of their proposed Champions League last-16 second-leg tie against Chelsea. When or if that match will ever be played, remains to be seen.
Kimmich was, as ever, a beacon of consistency for the club. His stats tell the same story as seasons past, with the now 25-year-old completing 78.1 passes-a-game on average with 90.1% accuracy in the league. With two goals and six assists, he's improving all the time.
Kimmich's current market value is a modest €80m per Transfermarkt, though he's probably worth a lot more to Bayern than that. Time and again, he has proven his quality and that he's a priceless asset of the Bavarians' midfield: the perfect replacement for one of the modern greats. Joshua Kimmich truly is the heir to Philipp Lahm's throne.Published 27 Mar 2020, 13:07 IST