How Kimmich became the answer to Germany's right-back woes

The 21-year-old emerged as Philipp Lahm's likely successor at Euro 2016, but will he make the role his own?

How Kimmich became the answer to Germany's right-back woes
Joshua Kimmich | Photo: Indian Express / Reuters

Joshua Kimmich has come a long way in a very short time. The 21-year-old has gone from playing in the 2. Bundesliga with RB Leipzig, straight into Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich line-up, to becoming one of the breakout stars of UEFA Euro 2016.

His development as a player has been remarkable too, turning from a midfielder into a highly versitile defensive player. Germany coach Joachim Löw was perhaps mindful this when he picked him in his squad to go to France, despite having just one cap to his name. And his success in filling the troublesome right-back role for Germany at the tournament shows what a talent he is.

Here, we take a look at just what he offered for the World champions in the tournament, and whether he could go on to fulfil his tag as "the next Philipp Lahm".

A midfielder-turned-defender

Guardiola has said that Kimmich is one of the best centre-backs in the world. And Kimmich became something of a regular at the back in the Rückrunde, proving to be a success in the role. This is despite Kimmich, who came through the ranks at VfB Stuttgart, having been signed as a defensive midfielder, where he played whilst on loan at Leipzig.

But it wasn’t in either position where he made his mark in France. Instead, Löw tried him at right-back. And he proved a revelation.

Kimmich in action against Northern Ireland | Photo: Goal / Getty
Kimmich in action against Northern Ireland | Photo: Goal / Getty

The blueprint for the knockout stages was laid out in the final group game against Northern Ireland, with Kimmich joined in the starting line-up by frontman Mario GomezBenedikt Höwedes started the first two group games in right-back, and whilst he is no doubt a fine defender, he is ill-fitted to the role vacated when Lahm retired after the 2014 World Cup.

However with Kimmich on the right, along with Köln’s Jonas Hector on the left, Germany’s full backs provided a much more menacing attacking threat, and even though a Michael McGovern-inspired Northern Ireland side kept the score down to 1-0, the team as a whole looked to have a better balance to it.

Making the place his own

Despite having played just one game for Germany before the start of the tournament, the 3-1 defeat to Slovakia in May, he was already looking like an established member of the side. He continued in the role right through to the semi-final defeat against France, except when pushed forward as a wing back against Italy, and looked composed throughout.

Going forward, he attempted 61.3 passes per game, with a 86.9% accuracy rate, according to WhoScored. Defensively he was sound, and his presence in the side made the whole team look a better-functioning unit.

The only notable mistake he made came in the semi-final against France, where his giving the ball away to Paul Pogba led to Antoine Griezmann’s second goal. Just to show what he offers at both end of the pitch though, he went on to hit the post from outside the French area. Sadly not enough to bring about a German comeback.

And as a testament to how much he impressed, he was named in UEFA’s team of the tournament, beating more established names like France’s Bacary Sagna, Italy’s Antonio Candreva and eventual champions Portugal’s Cédric Soares to the right-back berth.

Hugo Lloris helpless as Kimmich's strike hits the bar | Photo: The San Diego Union-Tribune / AP
Hugo Lloris helpless as Kimmich's strike hits the bar | Photo: The San Diego Union-Tribune / AP

Does Ancelotti hold the key to his future?

He will almost certainly be Germany’s right back going forward as they look to retain the World Cup, as there are smiply few other options.

With Lahm retired, the only other notable German right-back is Matthias Ginter, who is surely unlucky not to have been given more of a chance to stake his claim in the position, although competition with Lukasz Piszczek at Borussia Dortmund limits his chances at club level. Otherwise, Hoffenheim midfielder Sebastian Rudy was tried in the qualifying campaign without laying down a marker, whilst Antonio Rüdiger and Emre Can both looked uncomfortable away from their natural positions when tried at right-back by Löw.

So really the only obstacle to Kimmich becoming a fixture in the German side is his own fortunes at Bayern.

What Carlo Ancelotti, the new man in charge at Säbener Straße, does with one of Guardiola's favourite pets will be interesting to see. Lahm will likely remain the first choice right-back and a major obstacle for Kimmich's building his right-back credentials, ironic given that many have claimed him to be the 32-year-old's sucessor in recent times.

His chances in the centre of defence will also likely be limited by the arrival of Mats Hummels, whose partnership with Jérôme Boateng is already well established in the national side. And so it may well be that most of his opportunities are back in midfield. Whilst Bayern are more than blessed in that area, space could easily be found for him, especially as Xavi Alonso isn’t getting any younger at 34. The defensive experience he has gained can only help his case as a defensive midefelder.

What will this mean for his Germany prospects? It would surely be preferable that he was playing in the position more regularly, but without any real rivals, it’s difficult to see him being dislodged from right-back in the short term. For Germany, at least, he could well be the new Philipp Lahm.