It's a well known fact that ever since Philipp Lahm chose to end his international career after Germany won the World Cup, they have been bereft of a high quality, consistent right back. In the friendlies and Euro qualifiers since that magical night in Rio, Jogi Löw has tried many different options. Erik Durm, Antonio Rüdiger, Sebastian Rudy, Mathias Ginter, Emre Can. All have tried, yet none have stuck. Could Joshua Kimmich be the one to come in and make a last ditch effort to steal the right-back spot away from them, solidifing himself on the right side of the German defense for this years European Championships in France?
Lets first take an in-depth look at his competition:
Erik Durm: Durm was a late riser and surprise inclusion in Löw's World Cup squad two years ago, and even though he didn't receive any game action in Brazil, he seemed to be in prime position to lock down one of the two fullback spots on the German team after the tournament. Unfortunately for him, injuries and inconsistent performances derailed his quest for a starting spot, causing him to miss out on 7 out of a possible 15 appearances for the German side. In his time with the team, he has made 6 starts, albeit at left-back, not right-back, with three wins (Gibraltar, Scotland, Spain), two losses (Poland, Argentina), and a tie (Ireland).
He has made a late push for inclusion though, playing a utility role quite effectively for Dortmund, having made starts at left back (3), right back (1), and right midfield (1) since his return from a knee injury on January 23rd. He'll surely get a chance to impress Löw in the lead up to the tournament, and if his latest performance are an indicator, he could once again be a favorite for one of the full back spots.
Antonio Rüdiger: The Roma center-back currently on loan at Roma (with a €9 million option to buy at seasons end) usually plies his trade in the middle of defense, but has experience playing out on the right for Germany and Stuttgart. In three games out on the right for Germany, the team has two ties (Ireland, Poland), and one loss (Poland). Since his move to Italy, he has performed quite well for Roma, but he seems more likely to be included to play as a center-back in case of an injury, or someone that will make a strong push for a big role at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Sebastian Rudy: The Hoffenheim player came out of the gates strong for Germany, playing in 8 of the teams first 10 games after the World Cup (5 at RB, 2 at CM, 1 at CB), but not featuring in any of the last 5 with Löw testing out other options at the fullback position. In the games he played at right-back, they won three (Scotland, Spain, Georgia), tied one (Australia), and lost one (USA). He has a decent amount of experience at the position (compared to everyone else), having played ten games at right-back for Hoffenheim last season. It'll be interesting to see if he can impress Löw enough over the coming months to get a serious look at the right back position for the tournament.
Matthias Ginter: After a tough first season in Dortmund, Ginter has really come into his own this year under Thomas Tuchel, having played 21 games at right-back with much success (3 goals, 10 assists). He hasn't been included in the starting line-up as often in the Rückrunde with Lukas Piszczek and Erik Durm receiving most of the playing time out on the right side. In the two games Ginter has played at right-back for Germany, they have won one (Georgia), and lost one (Ireland). Having been included in the World Cup squad in Brazil, Löw is obviously very familiar with him and seems to trust him even though he still is only 22. If he can perform solidly in these next two months, he will surely be given an opportunity to win the right-back spot.
Emre Can: After leaving Bayern at the start of the 2013/14 season as a defensive midfielder, Can first moved to Leverkusen, where he played 13 games at left-back. Once he moved to Liverpool the next summer, he played 25 games as the right sided defender in a 3-man back line, and four as a right-back in a traditional 4-man back line in 2014/15 under Brandon Rogers. In three games with the German first team, two have come at right-back, and one has come at left-back. The two at right-back were won (Poland, Scotland) and the one at left-back was lost (France).
Since Jürgen Klopp has taken over, Can has mostly lined up in the center of midfield, with varying degrees of success. At times, he looks absolutely brilliant, winning balls all over the field and playing gorgeous passes all game long. Other times, he holds on to the ball too long, losing possession in dangerous areas and running himself out of position causing for difficult, undermanned defensive possessions. If he can find a way to perform more consistently for Liverpool in the stretch run of the BPL, he could find himself with a chance to make the team not as a right back, but as a central midfielder.
The Case for Joshua Kimmich:
Kimmich's rise to
super stardom has been quite rapid. After playing a back-up midfielder role for most of the season, he was thrust into the starting center-back spot after every true center-back went down with a long term injury. To the surprise of many, Kimmich didn't just hold his own, he actually played incredibly well against formidable opponents, including Leverkusen, Dortmund, and Juventus (twice). His best performance of the season came when Bayern arguably needed it most, as he was instrumental in keeping Dortmund off the score sheet in their 0-0 draw at the Signal Iduna Park. The fact he has made the transition from defensive midfield to center-back so quickly and without major growing pains will certainly have caught the eye of Jogi Low.
In terms of experience at right-back, like the other candidates, there's not much. He's played there once for both the U-21 and U-18 national team, and once for the U-19 Stuttgart team. Again, not much, but I don't see a move to right-back being all too challenging for him, especially after what he's done this season. And to be quite frank, I prefer him to some of the other candidates already. While Emre Can played in defense quite a bit for Liverpool last season, he can be quite prone to dribbling too much and finding himself out of position. When compared to Antonio Rüdiger, Kimmich might lose the defensive battle, but he offers more going forward and will be more dangerous with overlapping runs and crosses into the box. The same goes for Mathias Ginter, who does have 10 assists on the season, but only two since September 27th, suggesting that the other 8 may have just come during a hot stretch and aren't a true indicator of his actual offensive quality. Sebastian Rudy, who has a very similar physical/positional profile as Kimmich, probably doesn't offer more offensively or defensively than Kimmich, and while he hasn't played poorly at right-back for Germany, hasn't really blown anyones socks off either.
This leads me to believe that, at this point, Kimmichs biggest competitor for the spot is either Erik Durm, or a center-back that could be moved to right-back, like Jerome Boateng (no thank you) or Shkodran Mustafi. Boatengs best position is clearly not right-back, and while Mustafi has certainly grown as a player since the 2014 World Cup, he's probably much better in the middle as well. While Durm would be a great option, his biggest roadblock is most likely his squad role in Dortmund. Unlike Kimmich, who seems to have a starting spot in the center of defense for the foreseeable future, Durm does not as he is behind Lukas Piszczek in the right back pecking order, and behind Marcel Schmelzer on the left. While he's made some apperances in the midfield, its hard so see him beating out one of Gündogan, Weigl, or Castro/Sahin/Kagawa for one of the three spots behind Reus, Aubameyang, and Mkhitaryan.
The case against Kimmich is a pretty simple one: He's been a defender for a whooping month and a half and still only 21 years of age. In the grand scheme of things, he's extremely inexperienced and still in his first season playing top flight football. All his direct competitors for the position have more experience in both departments and maybe it would be better for Kimmich to wait another year before being hailed as the savior at right-back.
Just for fun, I decided to compare him to one of our own: Philipp Lahm. Lahm was a midfielder, and more specifically a central midfielder, for much of his career. It was only when Stuttgart had an injury problem with their fullbacks during his loan spell that Lahm started playing left-back. That was during the 2003/04 season. In February of 2004, Lahm made his debut for Germany, playing 90 minutes at left-back in a 2-1 win vs Croatia. Four months later, Lahm started and completed all three games for Germany at the Euros in Greece at the tender age of 20 years, 7 months, and 4 days.
So should Kimmich be called up to the first team? Yes, he definitely should. It can't hurt to try him out for a few games, at the very least so Löw can get a first hand look at him. Should he be the starting right-back at the Euros? Thats obviously still to be determined, but crazier things have happened. If he keeps putting in good performances for Bayern in big games, especially the UCL quarterfinals, then I don't see why he wouldn't at least be given a fair shot at winning the job.
All stats courtesy of transfermarkt.com