Football Features

Joshua Kimmich & Leon Goretzka: the world’s best midfield pairing right now?

By Felix Keith

Published: 18:46, 23 October 2020 | Updated: 10:46, 26 October 2020

Kingsley Coman was the undoubted star of the show as Bayern Munich thrashed Atletico Madrid 4-0 in the opening round of the Champions League this week, but Bayern’s dominance was such that he wasn’t the only one.

Coman may have terrorised Kieran Trippier all night. He may have broken the deadlock with a well-timed run followed by a composed finish. And he may have added the coup de grace by bamboozling Felipe to score the fourth. But, as devastating as Coman was, the brains and the brawn of the Bayern operation laid elsewhere.

Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka, Bayern’s double-pivot in central midfield, were outstanding. That statement will not come as a surprise to anyone who has watched Hansi Flick’s side in 2020. This is no recent observation, more a continuation of a theme.

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Thiago Alcantara’s move from Bayern to Liverpool in the summer transfer window was widely heralded as an astute piece of business. The Premier League champions were picking up one of the most intelligent and metronomic midfielders in the world; Bayern, in turn, were losing a key piece of the jigsaw which helped them win the 2019/20 Champions League.

Yet, as much as Bayern were suffering a blow, Flick knew the move would not prove to be a knockout one. He knew Thiago’s transfer would open doors, not close them. He knew it would allow him to persist with a different tactical balance in the middle of the park.

All the best combinations work harmoniously and Kimmich and Goretzka are no different. The 25-year-olds work perfectly together, complementing each other’s game as much as their teammates’.

Leon Goretzka’s Football Index profile

Having already conquered the right-back position, Kimmich’s move to central midfield could hardly have gone better, with his supreme fitness, positional intelligence and passing range helping Bayern tick.

“I see a great full-back, centre-back, number six, number eight and number 10. He has all the qualities a coach wants to see and have,” Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho told DAZN of Kimmich in August.  “He is an absolutely phenomenal player, one of the best in the world.”

Kimmich’s assist for Coman’s opening goal on Wednesday, coming immediately after a well-timed tackle on Joao Felix which halted a counter-attack, was a fantastic example of the weapons in his armoury: intuition, precision, vision.

Meanwhile, a new, stronger, bulked-up Goretzka offers a rampaging and relentless box-to-box presence, so often winning back possession before arriving in the area at the opportune moment to score. His silky touch and thumping shot from Coman’s pass for Bayern’s second against Atleti was evidence of a signature move in development.

Former RB Leipzig manager Ralf Rangnick, not a bad judge of talent, told kicker magazine in August that Goretzka “is currently the best box-to-box player in the world”. On the current evidence it is hard to disagree.

Of course it helps having the firepower of Robert Lewandowski to supply, in Kimmich’s case, and feed off, in Goretzka’s case — while Coman, Thomas Muller and Serge Gnabry are similarly ruthless in front of goal. But this pairing are the real deal.

Against Atletico, Kimmich completed the most passes in the opponent’s half (41) and put in a joint-high six crosses, while Goretzka’s three shots was tied with Lucas Hernandez, who put in an excellent display from left-back.

Joshua Kimmich’s Football Index profile

This mix of skills between two players who, at 25, have arguably not yet reached their ceiling makes them an exciting prospect for Flick to have at his disposal, especially when you add the depth of Corentin Tolisso to the equation.

With one Champions League title in the bag, and a perfectly-balanced youthful midfield showing their hand by dismantling a normally-formidable defence in the opening round, Bayern Munich look a force to be reckoned with.