Joshua Kimmich has asserted himself as a world-class right back at the ripe age of 24. The German international emerged as the heir apparent to Phillip Lahm in the Bayern Munich back line last campaign and has not looked back since. 12 assists across all competitions provides an indication of the the German’s quality as a modern attacking full back, but his defensive contribution has increasingly left much to be desired. Kimmich’s positioning, rather than a lack of ability or athleticism seem to be at the root of Bayern’s defensive frailties.
13 seconds was all it took for Augsburg to get on the board against Bayern Munich on Friday night. Immediately following the match, Bundesliga pundit Abel Meszaros took to twitter to outline Manuel Baum’s tactical genius to get in behind the Bavarian right back.
having done all that, this pass by Stafylidis is still great - Kimmich is looking for the outward ball and gets caught looking while Max is running behind him.— Abel Meszaros (@BundesPL) February 15, 2019
Süle has to worry about Gregoritsch and Hummels is occupied by Ji, while Cordova takes care of Alaba pic.twitter.com/xGB4n7Rerc
Meszaros’ assertion that the play was specifically drawn up to capitalize on the positioning of Bayern’s right back was substantiated when Augsburg left-back, Philipp Max, confirmed as much. Max explained to Bild that the Augsburg manager had identified the poor positioning of die Roten’s full back through detailed film study.
Unfortunately, it does not take a tactical genius to recognize what has become a habit for the talented German. Following a dominant 4-1 win over VFB Stuttgart, Bayern manager Niko Kovac remonstrated Kimmich for his advanced positioning on Stuttgart’s only goal of the match.
With a titanic clash against Jurgen Klopp’s electric Liverpool side looming, the defensive liabilities of the young defender’s game could be exposed by the relentless attack featuring Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah.
Let’s take a look at Kimmich and that lethal Liverpool front three.
The first clip, shows Augsburg’s first goal. Although Kimmich originally seems to be in good position, he loses the run of Philipp Max. Max quickly exploits the space behind playing a dangerous ball into the box. It is important to note that Philipp Max is a known quantity as one of the BEST CROSSERS in the Bundesliga. Giving him time and space out wide is a death wish.
The second clip tells a similar story on Augsburg’s second goal of the match. Kimmich yet again drifts wide to mark Max. Max intelligently cuts behind Kimmich rather than across his face. This allows the Augsburg left-back to receive the ball in ACRES OF SPACE and play another dangerous ball into the box.
Liverpool also seek to capitalize on runs in behind opposition fullbacks through interplay and fluidity between the front three and their own fullbacks, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
In the following clip, Sadio Mane moves centrally as Salah receives the ball deep. Robertson recognizes the Napoli defender hedge towards Mane, creating space wide and behind. Salah finds the Scottish left back who lays it on a platter for his Senegalese teammate. The fluid nature of the front three will require defensive discipline and communication to ensure that Kimmich and David Alaba are not exposed out wide. Robertson and Alexander-Arnold are both offensively gifted and cannot be given time to pick out teammates in the box.
Not only has Kimmich struggled to stick with runners in behind, his desire to bomb forward has constantly exposed the record champions on the counter.
The next clip from the VFB Stuttgart match is what originally drew the ire of his manager. Kimmich finds himself in the center circle as Stuttgart spark a counter with a long ball to Anastasios Donis. His positioning leaves Thiago to scramble to the right flank in the hopes of intercepting the ball to Donis. The Spaniard is a moment too late as Donis chests the ball down and puts a worldie past Manuel Neuer. Expecting Thiago, or even Javi Martinez to deputize as a right back puts the defense in a bind by exposing the center of the park and creating a mismatch on the flank.
Poor positioning is nothing more than a mental lapse or a selfish decision, but Kimmich’s lackadaisical approach to tracking back has become a staple of the 24-year-old’s game. For example, VFL Wolfsburg sparks a counter and the German international seems well positioned initially. An incisive through ball coupled with his failure to mark Wout Weghorst leaves the Dutch striker open on the back post for a simple tap-in.
Of all of the teams left in the Champions League, Jurgen Klopp’s side is unsurprisingly the most deadly on the counter attack. The following clip is perhaps the most ominous of the bunch. Mo Salah muscles through a Nicolas Otamendi tackle finding Sadio Mane with time and space at the top of the box. Although John Stones is there to attempt a block, Manchester City’s right back Kyle Walker barely enters the screen before the ball finds the back of the net.
The Pep Guardiola era ended in Munich years ago, but the DNA of a system built upon attacking full backs remains. If Kovac is unable to get Kimmich on board with the defensive game plan, Liverpool will make Bayern pay.
Despite sub par defending, Joshua Kimmich is a vital part of the Bayern first XI. His offensive contribution and his leadership on the pitch drive the Bavarian giants forward. If the young German is able to exercise defensive discipline as Kovac has implored, he is positioned to dictate the outcome of a famous night under the Anfield lights.
Do you think the Bayern back line can cope with Liverpool’s attack?