We all remember Thomas Muller leading the line for Germany at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. Ten goals across the two tournaments and the reputation of being the big game goal-scoring machine. After his instrumental role in Die Mannschaft’s 2014 triumph, the attacker followed it up with two prolific seasons for Bayern. 20+ goals in all competitions in 2014/15 and 2015/16, and a staggering 32 in the latter. At 25 years of age too. Coming into his prime.
“Every good, successful player, especially an attacking player, has a well-developed sense of space and time.“Thomas Muller (LINK)
But from 2016 until now, Muller has been scoring fewer goals. In fact, since his stellar 20 goal Bundesliga season for the Bavarians, he hasn’t crossed even 10 goals in the league since. Moreover, after a goalless 2018 World Cup, the tournament he dominated the previous two times, there was a misconception about the German. The fall in goals led many to believe he’s no longer the force he once was. I was guilty of believing that too. Instead, it’s just a transition in roles from a goal scorer to a playmaker.
The Evolution of Thomas Muller
The 30-year-old has reinvented himself as a player. For people like myself who don’t watch Muller and the Bundesliga week in week out, we can’t appreciate the brilliance of one of Europe’s most intelligent forwards. That football IQ the Bayern youth product possesses and utilises so well was on display against Chelsea yesterday. Champions League knockout game away at Stamford Bridge and he ran the show with such ease.
Muller didn’t score or get an assist yesterday in the German team’s 3-0 thumping of Lampard’s Blues. The spotlight was obviously on Serge Gnabry, Robert Lewandowski and Alphonso Davies. Considering how good Bayern were compared to Chelsea, you’d think the World Cup winner wasn’t involved much in the game. But if you watched it and specifically watched him, you’d realise why he’s such an integral part of the Bundesliga side.
Sometimes as football fans, we’re guilty of taking things on face value. The bad habit of oversimplifying and narrowing down the measure of good individual performances to easily visible output. We’ve all done it at least once, don’t lie. Especially if you only watch a team or player infrequently. “If he didn’t score or assist, he had an average game”. It’s the less explicit things and more subtle actions by players like Thomas Muller which often go unnoticed. Hence why he’s so underrated.
Raumdeuter – The Space Interpreter
Tifo Football explain in the best way possible what role he has. The term ‘Raumdeuter’, which Muller himself created, means space interpreter. The video below perfectly illustrates and describes why performances of brilliance by the forward will often go unnoticed.
The movement of the German international is perhaps among the best in world football. His ability to draw defenders out, weaving in and out between the lines, ultimately becoming a nightmare for the opposition. No pace, power, flicks, tricks, or exceptional technical ability. Just an incredible football brain that reads the game almost in slow motion.
Spatial awareness is an incredibly underappreciated skill in modern football. Making intelligent runs, being efficient with energy and finding the pockets of space to create chances for teammates. Once again, the the 8 time Bundesliga winner excels with creating and running into space with his movement.
After a brilliant sliced ball out wide to Gnabry, he made a tremendous run into the Chelsea box, ending with an audacious backwards header that rattled off the crossbar. That’s Thomas Muller doing what he does best. Another example of the Raumdeuter in full flow was with Bayern’s opening goal. The German makes an excellent run, providing an option to Gnabry’s right. This allows Lewandowski to dart in and behind to receive and return the ball to the former Arsenal winger. Muller’s presence alone diverts the attention of defenders and gives freedom to the rest of the attack. Brilliance from the 100 times capped German. It can be difficult to pick this up in real-time.
An Elite Playmaker
All that being said, it’s not like his performances are completely going under the radar. On paper too, you can clearly see how he has transitioned from a goal-scoring machine to an effective playmaker. An excellent 14 assists so far in the 2019/20, with a staggering 2.3 key passes per game. It’s no wonder Robert Lewandowski has been exceptional in front of goal with this genius playing alongside him.
The change to being Bayern’s playmaker correlates strongly with the rise of Lewandowski’s prominence and ridiculous goal scoring record in the side. In essence, this transition has meant Muller has sacrificed his own goal-scoring reputation for the sake of the team. Quite selfless and fitting for one of football’s most underrated and intelligent players.
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