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One more look at right-back Joshua Kimmich idea to save Germany’s hide

Why do we always seem to circle back to this? In short — Germany’s issues at the position have been woeful.

Germany v Japan: Group E - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Photo by Markus Gilliar - GES Sportfoto/Getty Images

Ah, remember the 2018 World Cup? When the defending champions Germany were touted to field three full XIs that could make a deep run, and featured the world’s best right-back in young Joshua Kimmich?

Fast forward four and a half years, and much has changed. Some things have not. The Germans didn’t make it out of their group with their A team. They’re poised to crash out again now. Joshua Kimmich has become the world’s best six for Bayern Munich. But for Germany, whispers of a move to right-back remain.

Can it work against Spain, now that Germany are well and truly backs against the wall?

The case for

Germany have had full-back issues since time immemorial, but especially on the right side. Hansi Flick’s current crop leave much to be desired in a variety of ways. Borussia Dortmund’s Niklas Süle might be better in the middle, and has lacked concentration at times for club and country. Plus, while he might be fast, he’s not agile and takes some time to get going. Spain’s wingers might feast richly.

Thilo Kehrer? A perennial befuddlement to many a follower of the national team setup. At least at West Ham he’s now playing, and he brings versatility and some measure of consistency — but compared to the world’s best? A lack of difference-maker potential. Kehrer can fill in at CB, he can play LB, and RB, and seems to integrate well for the team in possession. In defense he has shaky moments where it seems just that nothing more could have been expected for him. That such moments even occured in the pre-tournament friendly against Oman bodes seriously poorly for Germany’s current prospects.

Matthias Ginter? Probably offers more in a three and less going forward, or again in the center. Lukas Klostermann? Has barely played for RB Leipzig and his current fitness after essentially being out for all of the 2022/23 campaign is a real question mark.

In short: who else do Germany really have? The Jonas Hofmann right-back experiment looks decisively over so long as Germany are fielding an aggressive full-back on the other side in David Raum. And less defense hardly seems like a wise idea against a Spanish side that just smashed seven past Costa Rica.

Kimmich is easily one of Germany’s most quality players wherever he is on the pitch. He’s ready, willing, and able — go ask Bayern’s Julian Nagelsmann how involved his inverted right-backs, from Benjamin Pavard to Noussair Mazraoui, have been in build-up. To field Germany’s best XI, it’s a no-brainer. There’s scarcely room for Flick to be compromising here.

The case against

İlkay Gündoğan (Manchester City) and Leon Goretzka can probably hold down the fort in central midfield. Goretzka offers a crunching, physical presence and he’s no stranger to making a mean defense-splitting pass himself. Gündoğan...isn’t everybody’s fan favorite, but has quality and veteran savvy to offer defensive balance as well as ability to foray forward.

The problem is they’re Germany’s only other midfielders. Flick got to pick twenty-six men for this year’s tournament — that’s three more than Joachim Löw got in 2018. But it’s just three guys in central midfield.

Germany need to formulate a plan to win in the long haul, or they may as well pack their bags home already. If they can succeed this way against Spain, is it back to the drawing board after that? Every game is now a must-win. Flipping tactics back and forth hardly seems productive, while also representing injury and fatigue risk.

Lastly, Kimmich produces from the middle like he cannot on either flank. The ability to see and read the game and deliver his trademark chips over and behind the defense — for a Germany team already struggling to score, they don’t need fewer chance-generating weapons in their arsenal.

In this view, Germany will have to stick whomever at right-back, and hope that works. Maybe the plan is for Klostermann to work his way into the tournament and settle in — but they’ll need to reach the Knockouts first.

Hansi Flick will have to answer for this squad selection

Germany find themselves with hardly any ability to go to a Plan B here (indeed, you’d shudder to think what would happen should Kimmich get injured). Where are the potential DMs like Mainz 05’s Anton Stach or Gladbach’s Julian Weigl? Really, anybody who might — in a pinch — fill the role Sebastian Rudy did admirably in 2018 (at least until he got his nose bashed): someone who can bring bite to the midfield numbers when situation demands?

Yeah, maybe nobody is a perfect prototype here, but an extra body of any kind — even (gulp?) one with some NT experience like Emre Can — could have allowed Germany to shift their tactics accordingly, and allow Kimmich the possibility to rotate his position from game to game as matchups dictate.

Where, also, is Mitchell Weiser? The weaknesses in the defensive line and lack of destroyer CDMs have to allow for the possibility that this NT might work better with a back three, however unnaturally that might come to some of the attackers. You’ve already got one natural LWB in Raum; why not complete the set and let the camp sort out what’s best?

The best teams can adapt to tournaments on the fly. At least, be equipped to do so.

As it is, the German machine seems stuck in one gear. They’ve already got one loss to show for it, whatever mix of luck and habit that was. For better or for worse, there seems to be only one way to go from here: stick with it and hope it works next time.

Hopefully, they do manage to pull a rabbit — and, indeed, a right-back — out of a hat this time. But it makes one wonder: should such an approach remain for the next tournament?

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