A myriad of words have been used to describe Thomas Muller throughout his intriguing and successful career.
Some point to his remarkable and constant productivity, others are less flattering and the man himself has even started to invent new terms to quantify his style of play. Bayern Munich manager Hansi Flick has thrown some another on the stack after the shock from the top of the table with Bayer Leverkusen: “irreplaceable”.
Muller has already scored his seventh league assist of the season, equalizing as Bayern edged opponents Bayer Leverkusen with a 2-1 victory that propelled the Bavarians to the top of the league.
Only Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur has more assists in Europe’s top five leagues this season.
Understandably, Robert Lewandowski was the grateful recipient of Muller’s cross at the dawn of half-time on Saturday, tempting Leverkusen goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky and center-back Jonathan Tah towards the arched ball that eluded them both. , leaving an empty net for the Pole. .
Since the start of last season, Muller has scored 11 league goals for Lewandowski – a quarter of the non-penalty-free Bundesliga goals the world’s best player has scored in that span.
For a player who last season broke the Bundesliga record for assists with an incredible 21, Muller does an impressive job of living up to this frankly ridiculous result. Only La Liga’s Lionel Messi – who incidentally also racked up that total last season – can match such an insidious assist figure in Europe’s top five leagues since those records began.
However, it was Muller’s off-ball actions that echoed Bayern’s general (and relative) decline this quarter.
After the weekend game, Bayern executive chairman Karl-Heinze Rummenigge criticizing Leroy Sane in praising Muller, told Sport1 (via The Athletic): “Leroy has been blessed with incredible talent but he did not absorb the DNA of Bayern. [Unlike] Thomas Muller, yesterday’s hero for me. He doesn’t have the same talent as Leroy but he ran up and down [tirelessly]. “
As impressive as it is to see Muller leap onto the pitch in the last game of a year of densely packed schedules, the amount of running the 31-year-old takes on isn’t as important as how those runs affect the match.
Bayern’s rejuvenation by Flick, which led them to five trophies after taking midseason, has been built on the foundations of a prominent high press. Muller, reinstated in the fold after Niko Kovac threw him aside, played the role of chief disruptor.
Loaded onto the pitch, propelled by limbs that seem slightly too long, Muller ranked among the elite in Europe to reclaim the ball for his side by applying pressure. Last season, just seven players who played for more than 900 minutes in one of Europe’s top five leagues had on average more successful pressures than Muller (according to FBRef). This campaign, the self-proclaimed Raumdeuter has gone from almost nine successful presses per game to 5.7.
The overall intensity of Die Roten’s off-ball activity may be similar to last season, but the Bavarians are less aggressive in their press at the top of the pitch. Last season Bayern squeezed more than half of the touches their opponents had in their final third, that number has dropped to just over 40% this season.
All is relative. Bayern and Muller are still elite pressure groups. However, like a delicately configured machine, this slight dip in proactivity has a ripple effect and may have partially contributed to the team’s surprisingly porous defense in recent weeks – Bayern have gone down from 0.7 goals per league game. under Flick last season at 1.5. this term.
Yet as Lewandowski’s latest winner against Leverkusen ended 2020 for Bayern, they were still at the top of the table. A merciful winter break, albeit shortened, will provide the entire Bayern squad, including boss Muller, with a well-deserved rest before the crush in the Euro match – not that Muller has to worry about those- here, if they leave. in front of.
With fresh legs and a drive that has hardly wavered, Muller’s dexterity and industry make him more than worthy of the “irreplaceable” label.