On a bitter, snowbound morning at Bayern Munich’s Saebener Strasse training complex, Joshua Kimmich is a study in understated cool. He hails from Rottweil, the medieval town that spawned a belligerent breed of butcher’s dog, but there are few Rottweiler traits evident in his demeanour today.
Considered, impeccably polite, he is as happy extolling the virtues of Jurgen Klopp as he is reflecting upon the anguish of Germany’s premature exit at last summer’s World Cup. From a first meeting, one would hardly guess that this is one of the fiercest, most passionate defenders in the Bundesliga. “It’s my characteristic, so I cannot hide,” he smiles. “Here in Germany, we have emotional players, too.”
The Champions League duel that Kimmich and his Bayern team-mates confront at Anfield on Tuesday night is one brimful of emotion. Already, for the return leg at Allianz Arena on March 13, tickets have sold out faster than for the club’s semi-final last year against Real Madrid. Liverpool’s lustrous heritage in the competition, coupled with the sheer charisma of Klopp – familiar to Bayern fans through so many Der Klassiker clashes with his Borussia Dortmund side – has made this a dream draw in Bavaria.
Kimmich leaves no doubt, though, as to where he believes the balance of power lies. “Liverpool are the favourites,” he says. “They have lost one league game all season and have let in only 15 goals. But when you look at us, we are not as consistent as before.”
This is not kidology: Bayern, of late, have offered a pale imitation of past vintages. Defensively suspect, they trail Dortmund in the league by two points, having played a game more, while Croatian manager Niko Kovac is struggling to establish himself as a worthy heir to Pep Guardiola and Jupp Heynckes. Rumblings of internal discord are growing, with Uli Hoeness given a fearful dressing-down at the annual general assembly by lawyer Johannes Bachmayr, who criticised the club president’s autocratic leadership and the board’s tepid backing of Kovac after giving him a three-year contract.