Opinion: The case of Joshua Kimmich in central midfield

Should Niko Kovac persist with the idea of playing Joshua Kimmich in central midfield in lieu of starting Benjamin Pavard at right-back?

Niko Kovac was always destined to face a selection dilemma in defence following the arrival of Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard. Both of the defenders are centre-backs by trade but can also feature as full-backs.

Pavard, in particular, starred for France in their World Cup triumph last summer, notably scoring one of the best goals of the tournament. However, the presence of Joshua Kimmich restricted the Frenchman from becoming Bayern’s first-choice right-back.

Indeed, Kimmich is regarded as one of the best right-backs in the world following a couple of excellent seasons in the Bundesliga. And at centre-back, Pavard is facing problems competing with Hernandez and Niklas Sule while Jerome Boateng is also an option.

Kovac, however, seems to have found a way to tackle this situation, though unknowingly. In the game against Schalke, the Croatian mastermind was forced to deploy Kimmich in central midfield due to the unavailability of Thiago Alcantara and Leon Goretzka. This, in turn, allowed him to use Pavard at right-back, while Hernandez and Sule formed the central defensive pairing.

Kovac employed the same formula in the next game against Mainz. It paid off as well, with Pavard notably scoring an extraordinary goal while Kimmich ruled the show with his exquisite passing in midfield. And this poses the question as to whether or not should Kovac persist with this idea of playing Kimmich in midfield.

Perks of playing Kimmich in midfield

Bayern Munich have quite a stacked midfield department, boasting the services of Thiago, Javi Martinez, Corentin Tolisso, Leon Goretzka and new signing Mickael Cuisance.

Kimmich should be reverted back to his customary right back position. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Kimmich is arguably the most useful player in the Bundesliga. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Thiago has been the club’s primary number six for the past couple of years. But lately, the Spaniard has struggled to impose his authority in midfield and has appeared quite tentative at times. His compatriot Martinez, on the other hand, is on the wrong side of thirties.

Tolisso and Goretzka have both struggled with injuries while Cuisance is unlikely to receive too many first-team opportunities. Bayern, therefore, lack the services of a definite number six and that’s where Kimmich comes into the fray.

The German international, much like Thiago, is an exquisite passer of the ball. Although he may lack the quick feet of Thiago, he makes up for it with his incredible awareness. Additionally, the 24-year-old is quite dominant physically, despite his short 1.76m frame. This, coupled with the aggressive nature, makes him an ideal fit for Kovac’s midfield setup at Bayern.

From a general perspective, all of these qualities make Kimmich a top-class holding midfielder – something the Bavarians have clearly lacked ever since the departure of Xabi Alonso. He has the leadership qualities as well, which could be useful, especially with Manuel Neuer nearing the end of his career.

Is Pavard a viable option at right-back?

As iterated earlier, Pavard enjoyed a successful World Cup campaign with France last summer in the right-back position. However, he was predominantly used as a centre-back by Stuttgart last season.

MUNICH, GERMANY - AUGUST 31: Benjamin Pavard of FC Bayern Muenchen runs with the ball during the Bundesliga match between FC Bayern Muenchen and 1. FSV Mainz 05 at Allianz Arena on August 31, 2019 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Ready to play a more prominent role in the first-team? (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

That being said, Pavard does seem like a good fit at right-back for Bayern Munich, judging by his performances in the last couple of matches. He can pass the ball really well and has a good sense of positioning. Although the Frenchman is not as effective at providing crosses, he can always improve.

What does make Pavard a better option than Kimmich at right-back is his defensive work-rate. The ex-Lille star often operates in a deeper role, making it difficult for the opposition to find spaces in behind. And this could be beneficial for Kovac if he wants to employ a left-sided overload.

David Alaba, at left-back, is an attack-minded fullback, who loves to get forward and team up with attackers. He also has good chemistry with Kingsley Coman, which is coupled with Philippe Coutinho’s tendency to shift into the left side of the pitch. Hence, Bayern Munich are ideally suited to employ a left-sided overload, and the presence of Pavard on the opposite flank should assert more balance into the team.

In conclusion, using Kimmich in the middle of the park with Pavard taking up his spot at right-back has the potential to reap great dividends for Bayern Munich and manager Kovac would be well served by persisting with such an arrangement in the coming matches.

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