Two years ago, Thomas Müller was a multi-talented attacking player that Pep Guardiola utilized in several different attacking positions. But he did not seem to have a place of his own in the team, and he needed assurance that he was a “central component” of the team before signing a two-year contract extension.
Müller got that assurance from Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, and Guardiola used him regularly in his last two years at Bayern as Robert Lewandowski’s strike partner. Müller’s flexibility became secondary as his attacking instincts and interplay were too great to take off the field. His time as a fill-in player seems like ancient history, and his latest lucrative contract extension is a clear sign of how big his role has become.
Joshua Kimmich is now reliving a similar story to Müller’s. Despite his success in several disciplines of the game, he is a fill-in player like Müller was two years ago. Guardiola only gave him a chance in defense when Bayern’s defensive depth was completely depleted. Germany coach Joachim Löw only gave him the starting gig at right back when his options were completely limited. Four of the five appearances he’s made this season came at the expense of Xabi Alonso, whether it was starting in his place or replacing him from the bench.
Ancelotti raved about Kimmich’s versatility in a press conference before Bayern’s 2-0 win against Schalke last week, listing off all the positions he thought the 21-year-old could play. But Kimmich has proved he is more than a flexible, fill-in player. Even at his young age, he not only has to get more minutes, but he should also be one of the first names on Carlo Ancelotti’s team sheet.
This is not because Kimmich has scored four goals in his last three games for Bayern and Germany. His command on the ball and his movement off it is one the Bavarians need every single week. Bayern’s midfield play cranked up a notch when he and Vidal entered the Schalke game on Friday, and he looked a clear upgrade over an out-of-his-depth Renato Sanches.
His defensive attributes are now well established after playing in defense for most of 2016 – even if some of his attributes still have to improve – but he also has these latent offensive qualities that Ancelotti is starting to unearth. It is why the Italian coach let him stand opposite Douglas Costa during a few set-piece opportunities against Rostov, and why Kimmich is in a position to fire away a shot from out side the penalty area more often. These are attacking qualities Kimmich has already showed in his two years in Leipzig and with the German under-21 team, and now he is finally getting a chance to show them regularly for Bayern.
Ancelotti surely recognizes that the inclusion of Kimmich will come at the expense of someone else. It is one of the rotation issues Ancelotti highlighted before the Rostov game. Thiago and Xabi Alonso did not sign contract extensions to sit on the bench, and Renato Sanches did not make his big-money move from Portugal to do so either. But Kimmich should be at the top of that pecking order now, and someone else should be left out of the side because of him, not the other way around.
At the moment, Kimmich is probably the player Müller said he was two years ago, saying “I have a role here and there and I will keep my mouth shut and let people do with me what they want.” But Müller said he did not want to be that kind of person anymore, and, at some point, Kimmich probably will not want to be that either.
Kimmich is clearly a special talent, which is why Bayern paid €8 million for him even though he didn’t have a lick of top-flight experience. That financial commitment is the kind of confidence Bayern need to show in him now.
Müller transformed into a superstar when Guardiola fully committed to him. Kimmich has shown he has that superstar potential too, and Ancelotti needs to put him at the top of his team sheet to help bring it out.