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Analysis: Why Thomas Muller has never been better for Bayern Munich

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Muller is in imperious form right now. Form that he’s never experienced before.

FC Bayern Muenchen v 1. FC Nuernberg - Bundesliga Photo by Sebastian Widmann/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images

Since Niko Kovac’s departure and Hansi Flick’s subsequent appointment, Bayern Munich has again, prospered, with Thomas Muller arguably being the biggest benefactor of the change in coach. Bayern’s upturn in form can, in no small part, be attributed to his performances. In fact, der Raumdeuter’s displays have been so good, it’s possible that he’s never played better than he is currently. Here’s why:

Goals and Assists (G+A)

In this current edition of the Bundesliga, Muller has recorded twelve assists and five goals in just 20 matches — thus registering a projected G+A total of 28-29 for the end of the season. In 2015/16, back when Pep Guardiola was still at the helm, Muller only recorded 25 G+A’s in the BL during his most productive season. This showcases his (greatly) increased output this campaign compared to his previous years and even his best ones.

There are other factors that have affected these G+A numbers. Most importantly, the number of penalties taken and number of minutes played. The most striking detail about his current 2019/20 numbers are that Muller has in fact played a career low amount of minutes per game at 60 min/game. He played 75 min/game last season, and 77 min/game in 15-16.

Furthermore, Muller doesn’t take penalties for the team anymore (for perspective, five of his twenty goals in 15-16 came from spot-kicks). As a result, it’s astounding that he’s actually projected to achieve his most productive season — that’s where playing your best ever football gets you.

A better way to quantify Muller’s offensive production would be average goal contributions — eliminating the impact of minutes played. These numbers again indicate that Muller is indeed playing his best ever season — he’s had a goal contribution every 71 (!) minutes in 19-20, as opposed to his second best season in 15-16, where he had a goal contribution every 94 minutes.

Statistically proven impact

Here are understat comparison graphs of what are deemed as some of Muller’s best seasons: 14-15, 15-16, 17-18, and his graph for 19-20.

As you can see above, Muller is contributing much more buildup and passing than ever before — shown by his astounding xG chain and xG buildup stats, both of which are much higher than any of his previous years.

For example, his 0.24 xG buildup stat in 14-15 has more than tripled to 0.78 this season. And, his xG chain stat in 15-16 of 1 has dramatically increased to 1.56! In fact, they are so good (and improved) this season that they even surpass the likes of Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne, a player widely considered to be the best AM in the world.

Moreover, Muller is assisting goals at an unprecedented rate. He registers almost 0.2 assists per 90 more than his previous most creative season of 17-18 and his 3.33 key passes per 90 are by far his highest figures in that department. His vision, eye for the final ball and technical quality are clearly in their prime.

It must be said that in recent years, Muller’s goal scoring ability has waned — however, after admitting that he needed to step up with more goals to ease pressure off of Robert Lewandowski, the Bavarian has managed six goals in Bayern’s last nine games and is finishing chances again. Not only could we be seeing a reborn Muller as an overall player, his former ruthlessness in front of goal seems to have returned. He’s taking more shots per 90 in this year (2.22) than in 17-18 (1.98), so it appears that the hunger to score more goals has returned.

A more complete player

Muller has always been a versatile player. After all, he’s the original Raumdeuter and his game is based more around exploiting space than a structured position on the field. This season, his versatility has been a vital asset for Bayern. The man has played at ST, SS, CF, AM, CM, RW and LW already and can always plug a deficiency whenever needed.

Under Hansi Flick, Muller has predominantly played as a number 8/10 hybrid or RW, a deeper position than his usual AM and SS roles. This role has meant that he’s needed to run an average of twelve kilometers per 90, more than he’s run in any of his other campaigns, making him a vital instrument in Bayern’s press. In addition, there is an added maturity in Muller’s game which he didn’t have before, further showing his ‘team player’ mentality. Quoted by Bundesliga, he said this:

When I have to decide between going into the box or maybe trying to secure the zone in front of the box for the counter-attack, sometimes I decide for the defensive action

In this new role as a midfielder who not only contributes to the offensive phase, but the defensive part of the game too, Muller has flourished. His team-leading four tackles and 89 runs in Bayern’s recent match against Schalke demonstrates this, as do his average of two tackles and interceptions per game. Furthermore, the fact he’s been able to maintain his offensive production from deeper positions showcases how well he’s playing at the moment.

Hansi Flick and leadership

In this article, we’ve already gone over Muller’s mind-boggling numbers. But wait, there’s more! Since Hansi Flick took over the reins at Bayern, Muller has taken his game to another level. The former German international has recorded five goals and eight assists in ten BL games, a form unmatched in his entire career, and better than even Robert Lewandowski in the same period of games.

Flick’s confidence and support has clearly had a positive effect on Muller, who has taken on a leadership role under the new coach. Not only does Muller coordinate the passage of play, he now (as Flick says) “leads the team” and is the “right-hand man” of the coach. The older a player gets, generally, the more involved in leadership that player is. Muller is no exception and he’s still constantly improving at it.

Conclusion

Thomas Muller is playing at a higher level than ever before, in so many different aspects of the game. The notion that he may be finished is thoroughly premature, especially given his performances this season — the performances of a world class player in his prime. Let’s all hope Muller can keep this form up for years to come!