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After Messi, Thomas Müller is the best attacking midfielder in the world right now

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Season after season, Müller has some of the highest goal+assist numbers in the world, but he still is overlooked in favor of flashier players.

Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images

Hey, we all know that Lionel Messi is a complete freak, right? Are we clear on that? Good. Because this article isn’t about him. It’s about Thomas Müller, who turns 29 today. Since I cannot personally wish him a very happy birthday, let me instead help improve his criminally underrated reputation by drawing attention to some facts.

Thomas Müller is an incredible player. His ability to get goals and assists is unlike any other. Even today, nine years after his first season in the top flight, no one can say that they play like Thomas Müller. We call him by the term that he himself invented, because there’s nothing else to say — even today, Bayern Munich’s raumdeuter remains one-of-a-kind.

Müller’s style of play, however, remains controversial, mainly due to how hard it is to actually see what Thomas Müller does on a football pitch. This article isn’t here to draw your attention to that. There are a million and one tactical analyses all over the internet regarding Müller’s playstyle — some of them good, some of them bad, and some of them seriously nerdy.

No, it’s time to deal with some simple hard numbers.

Building a comparison

How do you compare the offensive production of different footballers, when all the top players at a single position are scattered across Europe? Different footballers play differing minutes in different roles (scorer vs assister); it’s hard to draw comparisons between them with raw numbers. Therefore, to facilitate this comparison of Müller with the perceived best attacking midfielders in the world, I’m going to use a metric called ‘goals + assists per 90’.

Here’s how it works:

G+A/90 = {(Goals scored + assists) / Minutes Played} x 90

It’s a good metric to gauge production, since it eliminates discrepancies produced by minutes and playstyles. So, you can compare Müller to someone like Özil, who doesn’t score a lot but assists aplenty. Let’s get started.

Caution! Numbers ahead

In the 2017-18 season, here are some of the perceived best attacking midfielders, and their production compared to Müller:

Thomas Müller: 0.95 G+A per 90
Antoine Griezmann: 0.92 G+A per 90
Paulo Dybala: 0.88 G+A per 90
James Rodriguez: 0.75 G+A per 90
Dele Alli: 0.74 G+A per 90
Kevin De Bruyne: 0.71 G+A per 90
Christian Eriksen: 0.61 G+A per 90
Mesut Ozil: 0.58 G+A per 90
Isco: 0.58 G+A per 90

Alright, but, um, all these guys played in different competitions, right? If you want to go down that route, let’s look at the Champions League:

Dele Alli: 1.24 G+A per 90
Antoine Griezmann: 0.68 G+A per 90
Kevin De Bruyne: 0.67 G+A per 90
Thomas Müller: 0.61 G+A per 90
Christian Eriksen: 0.51 G+A per 90
James Rodriguez: 0.35 G+A per 90
Isco: 0.25 G+A per 90
Paulo Dybala: 0.14 G+A per 90
Mesut Ozil: Didn’t play, lol.

Seems conclusive, right? Müller isn’t the best. Well this is the part where I have to talk about small sample sizes. See that number that Dele Alli has up there? Well, in last year’s champions league, even Leo Messi had 0.92 G+A per 90. Therefore, can we conclude that Dele Alli > Messi? Not quite. Since we have so few minutes to work with in a single season, why don’t we use numbers from the last three?

Here you go ...

Champions League numbers from 2015-16 to 2017-18:

Thomas Müller: 0.77 G+A per 90
Antoine Griezmann: 0.65 G+A per 90
Mesut Özil: 0.60 G+A per 90 (two seasons only)
Dele Alli: 0.57 G+A per 90 (two seasons only)
Kevin De Bruyne: 0.47 G+A per 90
James Rodriguez: 0.40 G+A per 90
Christian Eriksen: 0.37 G+A per 90 (two seasons only)
Isco: 0.30 G+A per 90
Paulo Dybala: 0.29 G+A per 90

Just for fun, Leo Messi registered 1.13 G+A per 90 in the same time period. If you needed any more confirmation that the diminutive Argentinian is a monster, look no further.

As for Müller, the numbers couldn’t be clearer: after Messi, he is one of the best attacking midfielders in the world and has in fact been better than all his peers over the past three seasons. Yet Thomas Müller remains criminally underrated both outside of Bavaria and even by some of his own fans. The stats don’t lie, though: even against the best competition Europe, Müller is simply one of the best offensive players in the world.