Let me start with some facts. One — Jamal Musiala is a generational talent. Two — Bayern Munich needs Thomas Muller to play at its best. Both of these things can be true at the same time.
Somehow, these two players have been pitted against each other in an insidious narrative that threatens to derail the entire season. A significant portion of the Bayern Munich fanbase has convinced itself that Thomas Muller should ‘step aside’ and give his starting spot to Jamal Musiala. Unfortunately, based on what we saw against RB Leipzig on Friday, Julian Nagelsmann seems to agree.
Guess how that ended? Here’s a recap.
Jamal Musiala is an incredible talent. Honestly, he might be Bayern’s best player this season. However, that doesn’t mean he can do it all alone. Against Leipzig, the 19-year-old was a shadow on the periphery of the play, unable to impact the game at all.
Slotted into the attacking midfield position behind Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Musiala found the going difficult. Marco Rose’s setup gave him no space to dribble, while tight pressing from RBL’s midfielders cut off his passing channels. He was effectively isolated from players like Leroy Sane and Serge Gnabry, who could’ve served as an outlet.
It was probably Musiala’s worst game of the season so far, and it was down to a tactical mismatch. The kid was begging for someone to take that heat off him, so he could find space to do what he does best. It just didn’t happen. Thanks to that, Bayern registered a tepid attacking performance, slumping to a 1-1 draw.
You see where I’m going with this? That game vs Leipzig was missing a key ingredient — someone to open up space. A space interpreter, if you will. Bayern had one of those in reserve, but he didn’t come on until the 83rd minute. What a waste.
If you can’t fit Thomas Muller into your lineup, you’re doing something wrong. The coaches who sidelined him — Carlo Ancelotti and Niko Kovac — are properly recognized as the worst coaches Bayern have had in the last decade.
Simply put, coaches who bench Thomas Muller get fired. Julian Nagelsmann is now making the same mistake. It’s not like Ancelotti and Kovac didn’t have the talent or squad depth to replace Muller — they did. Bayern Munich have cycled through a wide array of potential Muller “replacements” in the past ten years. Thiago Alcantara, Mario Gotze, James Rodriguez, Philippe Coutinho, and now Jamal Musiala were all dubbed “Muller replacements” at one point or another. However, Thomas Muller is still here.
Flick on Müller: "He knows where to stand. He also coaches the team on the pitch. He played on the right side today, but he's still very, very important at the center of our game. You could say he's an extended arm for the coach"— Bayern & Germany (@iMiaSanMia) October 21, 2020
Pep made Thiago and Muller work together. Jupp made successful lineups with both James and Muller. Flick ... well he just benched Coutinho. The successful coaches never compromised on the Raumdeuter. They recognized the intangibles he brings to the game, especially his ability to organize the attack, create space, and lead the press from the front. Those who ignored this saw marked declines in performance, and were inevitably sacked.
Thomas Muller is the proverbial canary in the coal mine. A failure to include him is a sure sign of a tactically compromised system.
Now, Nagelsmann’s point of view is easy to understand. Jamal Musiala is the first player in ten years who has a legitimate shot of usurping Muller from his position. Yes, he’s that good. However, that really only makes him a suitable Muller successor, NOT a replacement. While the two are still at the club together, they can be made to coexist. That’s where the coach is going wrong. That’s where it went wrong vs Leipzig.
Making it work
Nagelsmann has a ready-made template to get Muller and Musiala on the pitch together. Musiala is already an incredible winger. That’s where he got his break for Bayern, after all. Just play him out wide, preferably on the left, where he has great chemistry with Alphonso Davies. Let the magic happen.
In fact, against Leipzig, we often saw the midfield get so crowded that Musiala automatically drifted wide into a winger role just to get some space. It didn’t last though, as he left a hole in attacking midfield that he had to go back and fill. Imagine if he didn’t have to compromise like that? How much better would Bayern be?
Heck, we don’t need to imagine. Muller and Musiala have played productive games with each other numerous times throughout the last two seasons. The idea that they can’t coexist and even complement each other is just absurd. It’s only the coach’s stubbornness that’s keeping them from doing so again.
It’s crazy how we’re in 2023 and the Muller debate remains a semi-annual occurrence. How many more times does this man need to prove himself? Yes, he had a bad World Cup, but so did all of Germany (except Musiala). On that basis, maybe Kimmich and Goretzka should lose their spots to Sabitzer and Gravenberch. Except that’s not the debate we’re having.
Frankly, it’s annoying to have to point this out every few years. This article isn’t a kneejerk response to the Leipzig game, since this exact point was raised in our podcast episode recorded last Sunday. You can check for yourself below or on Spotify. Topic starts from 23:50 if you need a timestamp.
Thomas Muller AND Jamal Musiala need to play together, for the good of Bayern Munich. That’s all that needs to be said.