Thomas Muller: Why Bayern Munich’s Genius Is Such An Extraordinary Player

Thomas Muller Bayern

Thomas Muller celebrated the signing of his new contract by scoring the decisive goal, a customarily well taken penalty, in Bayern Munich’s recent 1-0 victory over Hannover 96.

Aside from clinching all three points for Die Roten to propel them to 15 wins from 17 league matches, Muller’s goal held extra significance, for it brought up the 26-year-old’s 100th Bundesliga goal. More than that, though, the 40th minute finish also made it 48 wins in a row for Bayern from games in which Muller has scored and 68 undefeated. A remarkable figure indeed.

Beyond his historic strike, Muller also showed off so many of the qualities that make him such an integral member of Pep Guardiola’s Bayern. While his ability to adapt to Guardiola’s tactical tinkering stood out most, his intelligence and work-rate also allowed him to have a major impact on the contest.

Starting the match in a hybrid position that was essentially a mix between a right sided central forward position and that of a right winger, Muller often took up positions in a right of centre location. Within Bayern’s 3-4-2-1, this ensured Rafinha had plenty of space to run into, but on occasions where Muller drifted into true central zones, Rafinha became very isolated and was regularly forced to go it alone or pass backwards.

To rectify this and to give Bayern a stronger foothold in the contest amid Hannover’s robust start, Guardiola’s shrewdly changed his shape around the 10 minute mark to more of a 4-3-3. Muller’s inside right role remained ostensibly similar, however. But on 25 minutes, a still unsatisfied Guardiola decided on switching to a 4-4-1-1 (or 4-4-2 depending on perceptions).

Muller now had his role altered to that of a more traditional centre forward, forming an imposing strike partnership with the brilliant Robert Lewandowski. In reality, though, with the pair’s subtle interchanges, plus Muller’s subtle switches with Kingsley Coman and Thiago to the right and left flank respectively, Muller found himself deployed in four separate attacking positions (striker, number 10, right winger and left winger).

So within half an hour, the World Cup winning German international had already been forced to adjust to many different roles within three different systems, which suitably illustrated his flexibility and versatility to undertake multiple roles in the attacking third.

Whatever post Muller operated from, one thing was clear, with that being what a nightmare he is to come up against. Using his vast footballing smarts, Muller nipped in and out of space to either receive the ball or vacate it quickly to create openings for teammates. Whether it was hanging around and in between Hannover’s two centre-backs, Christian Schulz and Marcelo, or ducking into the space in between the home side’s two central midfielders (and to either side of them), Manuel Schmiedebach and Salif Sane, Muller used his expert reading of the play and spatial awareness to damaging effect.

His instincts in and around the goalmouth were well exhibited throughout too. Despite not getting on the scoresheet courtesy of one of his expertly timed runs, where he has an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time, he still made plenty of lethal surges into the box that on another day he would’ve capatilised on.

Even though he’s not as technically gifted as many of his teammates in terms of ball control and dribbling ability, his often underrated passing game served as a huge weapon in a match where he completed an incisive four key passes. Moreover, his supreme fitness and desire to work selflessly for the good of the team on both sides of the ball, combined with his intangibles, such as his capacity to read the play and his crafty positioning, more than make up for his technical shortcomings. Against Hannover, this was, once again, precisely the case.

“Pour liquid into a container with a hole, however tiny, and it will always find a way through.”

“He always finds the hole. There’s always a way through for him. He’s always useful,” aptly explained one of Bayern’s experienced directors in an interview with ESPN’s Gab Marcotti.

Guardiola echoed a similar sentiment when recently speaking about Bayern’s homegrown hero, saying: “Muller has a lot of quality. His biggest strength is his optimism and opportunism.

“He has an eye for goal. And he is still young. He will only get better.”

In a season where Bayern’s wiry yet strong attacker is enjoying his most prolific campaign to date, which has seen him net 14 Bundesliga goals and 21 overall, it seems strange that he’s not receiving as much credit as fellow Bundesliga goal machines Robert Lewandowski and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

The man who’s been at Bayern for 15 years won’t mind, however, for he’ll continue to quietly and confidently go about his work in his own unique way.

While his achievement of reaching a century of Bundesliga goals will be inevitably overshadowed by Guardiola’s recent decision to leave the Munich giants come season’s end, Muller once again displayed why he’s such a respected, dependable member of this talented side.

He may not be as naturally gifted as his more glamorous, eye-catching colleagues, but in terms of the functionality and success of this team, he’s evey bit as important.