fter months of cliche and assumption, they’re finally getting their due credit. It may not have quite been Bayern Munich at their best, remarkably, but Friday’s 8-2 win over Barcelona was all about context, the seismic impact of the result and the stage forcing the world to recognise that they are not just the habitual Bundesliga behemoth.
Even Borussia Dortmund’s chief executive, Hans-Joachim Watzke, talking at the press conference to present the club’s annual financial results, was forced to refer to the current crop as “the best team ever to play for Bayern”. If Philippe Coutinho’s strangely inevitable cameo was the door hitting Barça hard on the backside as they slinked out of the Champions League doorway, the pinnacle of Bayern’s Estádio da Luz recital was goal No 5. Alphonso Davies to Joshua Kimmich, full-back to full-back, Bayern finishing the match, flexing their considerable muscles and showing that they are far closer to keeping the flame of perfect football burning than this current, wan reproduction of a Barcelona side.
“I was almost ashamed of how happy I was,” a smiling Kimmich said of his goal after the game, praising Davies’s scintillating setup, “because it was 99% his goal.” It made it even more typically Kimmich, if that was possible. After the sensing of the opportunity and the lung-busting surge to get there, the point-blank finish didn’t tell half the story – but he was happy to play it down.
After being anointed as the successor to Philipp Lahm when the captain retired three years ago, Kimmich has already smothered the idea of the comparison being heresy and outgrown one of the more imposing club shadows of recent times. His unfussiness and outstanding versatility – not just being able to multitask but being able to do it to an unquestionably elite level – means the parallels with Lahm are and always have been unavoidable to a certain extent.
The famous scene at the final whistle at Dortmund in March 2016, when a zealous Pep Guardiola gave Kimmich an impromptu tactical debrief from an inch in front of his nose while the Yellow Wall looked on, made clear to the world just how much coach demanded of player – and how much he thought he was capable of in a variety of positions. The previous summer, Guardiola had already given a press conference for the pre-season Audi Cup in which he had become so animated in describing the potential of his pet development project that he lapsed into English pub talk in his description. “Oh, this fucking guy … ich kann ihm helfen.”
And Guardiola did help him. When the deep disappointment over Manchester City’s exit across town at the Alvalade dies down, some might be able to pause their keenness to demolish his legacy and look back at the players he has shaped, and continues to. Kimmich would be one of the first in the queue to endorse him. After becoming frustrated with the limitations in possession of the specialist centre-backs at Barcelona, Guardiola had moved Yaya Touré and later, more permanently, Javier Mascherano to the centre of defence. At a touch under 5ft 8in, Kimmich might not have seemed like the obvious candidate to follow suit – unless you really knew what Guardiola looks for in a footballer, in which case it was obvious.
The experiment did not outlast Guardiola’s tenure in Bavaria but Kimmich’s high-class version of musical chairs did not slow down. Under Carlo Ancelotti and Niko Kovac he played at right-back – as a turbo, ultra-offensive Lahm replacement – and in the centre of midfield again. As Joachim Löw and Germany also worked out how best to make the most of Kimmich, the debate raged inside Bayern’s Säbener Strasse base over where he was most needed.
Since Hansi Flick’s arrival, the debate is no more. Kimmich is a key component of his ideal midfield, even if Benjamin Pavard’s injury has seen him fill it at right-back, with Thiago Alcântara the deluxe replacement in midfield. While Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has said he would like Thiago to stay (and how his old club must have thought of what might have been on Friday night), there has been no desperate scramble to talk him out of his urge to spread his wings and, as has been reported, join Liverpool.
The pairing of Kimmich and Leon Goretzka that took the team through the season’s home straight (just how muscly the latter has become in recent months is simultaneously a source of awe and mirth in the Bayern dressing room) has been formidable enough to suggest even the craftsman Thiago should not be part of Flick’s first-choice XI. No wonder, then, that Pavard was applauded on to the field by the squad during training at the Estádio Municipal de Mafra after recovering from ankle-ligament damage that threatened to finish his season.
The France right-back’s return against Lyon would release Kimmich back into midfield – and would probably make Bayern an even more powerful force, ready to show the world what their version of perfection really is.