Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich are both blessed with a host of brilliant players. But the star of an edgy encounter was 21-year-old Joshua Kimmich, writes DW's Ross Dunbar.
Hidden behind Pep Guardiola's theatrics at the final whistle as he castigated Joshua Kimmich, the Bayern coach will have been immensely proud of his 21-year-old protégé. Kimmich's stellar performance at centre-back was the notable exception to an otherwise tetchy and edgy 0-0 draw between the Bundesliga's two outstanding teams.
Facing arguably the league's most potent centre-forward in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who has 22 league goals this season, the Bayern kid was brave and committed. Even when asked to compete in a sprint-race with the Gabon striker - who claims to be faster than Olympic record-holder Usain Bolt - Kimmich duly obliged. He may not have come close to stopping the striker on this occasion, but it was a message to say 'I'm not going anywhere'.
There were some vital interventions, too, including an exceptional block to prevent Marco Reus from scoring a certain opener. The precocity is clear, but Kimmich has met every task with faultless energy and class. Once Bayern turned the screw and secured total dominance of the ball, Kimmich was able to play a more reserved role in front of Germany head coach Joachim Löw.
Tough love on a tough night
Among the Vine generation, Guardiola's ceremonious exchange with Kimmich will have looked wholly bizarre. Making a stage show after the final whistle seemed unncessary, and perhaps could potentially back-fire. But the Bayern boss probably sees similarities with himself as a player and wants to iron out any creases in Kimmich's game. "I love Joshua Kimmich. He can achieve whatever he wants," said Guardiola who was full of praise for the player post-match.
A natural defensive-midfielder who thrives at disrupting play, with a sharp-edged pressing game, Kimmich has been molded into a makeshift centre-back as Bayern nurse a massive selection headache with Jerome Boateng out until spring. Guardiola has been presented with little choice, but in matches like at Bayer Leverkusen, he has been rewarded.
The fact that Kimmich was selected in such a high-pressure situation shows just how much faith Guardiola has in the youngster. The more experienced Mehdi Benatia was left on the sidelines, while Bayern's title race was in the capable hands of his younger teammate. "When I speak about Joshua Kimmich, I only say good things. I have a message for journalists, don't say he can't play in defense," added Guardiola.
And the future looks bright
His development at first-team level has been rapid - the 21-year-old was scoring in a narrow win for RB Leipzig at home to Union Berlin in Germany's second division a year ago. A move to a mid-table Bundesliga club, such as his former employers Stuttgart, would have been a logical step. Yet as a Bayern player, with all of the expectations, he has worn the famous red shirt with little problem whatsoever.
He completed 95% of his passes on Saturday, a vital component of Guardiola's build-up phase. Kimmich is great at carrying the ball out of the defensive line and is adept at finding extra passing angles for the midfielders. Defensively, an area under close scrutiny, his touch-tight marking on Aubameyang at times was intelligent, meaning Dortmund's top scorer barely had a sniff of goal.
What is remarkable about the youngster is how composed and self-assured he is on the pitch. He carries a certain confidence that you would normally only see in players who have won European titles and World Cups. It almost certainly rubs off on his teammates. Nothing whatsoever seems to faze him in big matches and it's likely he will remain in the team for the upcoming second leg with Juventus.
If Kimmich remains a first-team player at Bayern, even when Guardiola has a full compliment of options, then the European Championships might not be an unrealistic target. Before that dilemma comes around, the talented 21-year-old will be delighted to be part of Bayern's almost certain championship-winning team.