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BFW Film Room: the subtle brilliance of Thomas Muller

The oft underappreciated and overlooked Thomas Muller has quietly returned to form in the Ruckrunde.

Photo by Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images

Thomas Muller is perhaps Bayern Munich’s most underappreciated player. The 2014 World Cup is often viewed as the peak of the Raumdeuter’s impressive career, which saw him win the Champions League in 2013 and the World Cup Golden Boot in 2010. Since the Summer of 2014, the German forward has been written off by seemingly any and everybody at various points in time, but his resiliency and unique style of play continue to propel him and the Bavarian giants forward.

In the face of a transitional season in Munich and exile from the National Mannschaft, Muller continues to prove the doubters wrong. His absence in both legs of the Champions League tie with Liverpool was most certainly felt, especially in light of his scorching form in the Bundesliga.

The ex-German international has been key to Bayern’s title challenge, serving as the heartbeat of the Bavarian attack. His hard pressing, intelligent movement, incisive passing, and effective finishing have been on full display throughout the Ruckrunde.

Let’s take a look.

When BFW editor and contributor, INNN, attended the match against Mainz, he noticed that Muller served as a field general, constantly pointing and barking orders to his teammates. The Raumdeuter knew not only where he should be on the field, but where everyone else should be as well.

In this first clip, you will notice Muller has drifted centrally as Bayern regain possession. He is patient with his run, realizing that James does not have a good angle to find him with the ball. As soon as Serge Gnabry receives the ball out wide, Muller quickly points to exactly where he wants the ball. The Bavarian attacker then steps right into the same space he identified and connects with a pinpoint cross from his compatriot. Although he does not finish on the first touch, he slots home the rebound.

Muller also utilizes this skill to create opportunities for his fellow attackers. In the next three clips, Muller identifies space in the channel in behind the defense, which allows him to receive the ball in space and send in a dangerous cross. Although none of these moves are finished off, you will notice that Muller draws defenders to him, creating space for the central runner, which is typically Robert Lewandowski.

In each of these clips the Polish Hitman is left with only one defender or none at all on him in the box thanks to the movement of the German forward. This almost never happens overwise on account of the attention opposition defenders rightly give the lethal striker. Muller provides a vital link between deeper lying play makers like Thiago, James, and Leon Goretzka and arguably the world’s best number “9.”

The stats back-up Muller’s importance to Lewandowski as well. Heck, even Lewy backs it up.

In the next clip, Gnabry is able to finish off the move. The two Wolfsburg defenders are so focused on Muller that Gnabry is able to come across the front of each in order to tap the ball in. In Gnabry and Lewandowski, Bayern have two forwards with strong poaching instincts and a knack for scoring goals. Die Roten’s number 25 serves them on a platter.

Muller also possesses the unique skill of creating space for teammates like Lewy and James without the ball thanks again to his spatial awareness. As Gnabry receives the ball below, Muller makes a decoy run drawing the defense closer to the touchline. James recognizes this and drifts high which gives him time and space to get the shot off.

In addition to his spatial awareness and intelligent movement, Muller is a skilled passer in tight spaces around the box. In the first clip, the German regains possession through hard pressing (another underappreciated aspect of his game), looks off Gnabry to create space for Lewandowski down the middle, and puts a ball right into the path of the Pole, who only needs to beat the keeper.

In the same match, Muller arrives with a late run on the counter before playing a one-touch pass to Lewandowski through multiple defenders. Again, this should have been a goal.

Note: This is not a critique of Lewy! You can’t score them all.

Against Wolfsburg, Muller again connected with Lewy around the box. After receiving the ball on a counter in which the two forwards were outnumbered by defenders, the German forward bypassed FOUR defenders with a dink of a pass over the top to his Polish counterpart. If Luka Modric, Kevin De Bruyne, or Jorginho pulled this off, it just might have gone viral.

Finally, the 2010 Golden Boot winner is able to put the ball into the back of the net on his own. In the next clip Muller, drifts behind the defense as they are mesmerized by Renato Sanches’ dribbling. The German shuffles up the box as the ball is passed to Thiago, finding himself in acres of space. Yet again, he is pointing to where he wants the ball. As is the norm, the Spanish midfielder finds Muller with a perfectly weighted pass, which the Raumdeuter finishes with class.

When Muller puts it all together, Bayern Munich is unstoppable going forward. Rumors of his demise are ALWAYS premature.

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