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Have people been too critical of Thomas Muller at the World Cup?

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Has Muller really been as poor as some have suggested? Some of his teammates think otherwise...

Germany v Sweden: Group F - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

At first glance, Thomas Muller hasn’t had the most impressive start to Germany’s World Cup campaign in their first two matches vs. Mexico and Sweden. It’s quite difficult to pick out too many standout performers from Die Mannschaft’s 1-0 loss to Mexico and the heroic, come-from-behind win over Sweden has been highlighted by goalscorers Marco Reus and Toni Kroos.

Muller has received a fair amount of criticism for what’s been perceived [by some] as two underwhelming, individual performances playing as a wide attacking midfielder. He plays in that position a fair amount for Bayern Munich, but it’s not where he’s best suited, especially for the German national team. In an interview with tz, Bayern teammate Joshua Kimmich described how Muller’s role differs for both club and country:

Of course it’s a bit difference, because on the national team we divide up space differently from the way at Bayern Munich. Here we have a build-up diamond. So Thomas plays further inside; I stand even higher on the right wing. At Bayern, it sometimes happens that he plays more outside and I play more behind him. It always depends on the situation.

Taking a deeper look at Muller’s statistics in the World Cup thus far, he’s made a total of 7 key passes, which is the joint second-most in the tournament thus far alongside Kimmich, Neymar (Brazil), Philippe Coutinho (Brazil), and Kieran Trippier (England); only Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium) has more (9). When a key pass doesn’t lead to a goal, it’s often times an unfortunately overlooked statistic, but Muller’s numbers prove that he’s still playing an influential part for Die Mannschaft.

Ex Bayern Munich legend Paul Breitner was also quick to defend Muller amidst the mixed criticism he’s been receiving:

I’m not worried at all about Thomas Müller, unlike the many who do -- who tear him apart when he doesn’t score a goal in a few consecutive games. Then the folks comes out who conjure up some kind of crisis scenario. Who only ever talk about him and ask: why doesn’t he do this? Why doesn’t he do that? Why doesn’t he score a goal? Those are all just current-status-updates that say absolutely nothing of substance about a player who has performed consistently for two, three, four years.

He didn’t get the nickname Raumdeuter (“space interpreter”) for no reason either; his ability to create open spaces for his teammates to exploit for both club and country is impressive. His tactical awareness on the pitch is bar none and his work off the ball is part of what makes him such an effective tool. It was one of his space-creating runs in the match vs. Sweden that led to Reus’s equalizing goal in the 48th minute. If you watch carefully (below), you can see that Muller’s run attracts two Swedish defenders, leaving plenty of space open for Mario Gomez and Reus to run in to. Had Muller not made that run, the space in the box might not have been there.

Lastly, we’ll leave you this; Muller ALWAYS believes: