Round-Up: Player of the Month – April
In the past calendar month, Müller was on the pitch for every FC Bayern game. He led the Rekordmeister onto the field as captain as many as four times within that period. In a total of 444 minutes he was directly involved in six goals.
The cup has its own laws and so neither of the April matches in the DFB Pokal for Bayern were to remain as simply normal games of football.
First of all there was a tie against the clear outsiders travelling to Munich, FC Heidenheim. In one of the craziest cup games of recent years, the second division Swabians had the record cup winners on the brink of an exit more than once. It’s thanks to Müller too that Bayern didn’t lose the tie in the end.
After the break, which FC Bayern went into 2-1 behind and a man down, it was the seemingly always easy-going man from Weilheim who scored the equaliser. Behind the defence the forward peeled away unnoticed and converted stylishly with an acrobatic volley. Just minutes later he assisted the goal to go in front from Lewandowski with a flat cross (or was it a shot?).
A round later he assisted the go-ahead goal for Lewandowski again. In the second half he was even able to make it 2-0 himself. Once more the 29-year-old managed to steal away from his markers. Once more he converted acrobatically.
The label ‘Raumdeuter’ for Müller is already so established that even Bleacher Report’s YouTube animation series introduced the German as a regular character with that name. And even if the nickname is now being used almost excessively, there’s still plenty of truth at the heart of it.
Müller’s best games are in the role as a deeper forward behind Lewandowski. A role perhaps best described as a “shadow striker”. The German international, with 100 caps for his country, downright blossoms there – as a free spirit.
He occupies spaces that nobody else would occupy. He makes runs that nobody else would make. The Müller concept, constantly portrayed as demystified, still works just as well in the current season as it did in his first season.
His team-mates notice that as well. Lewandowski doesn’t tire of emphasising how much the number 25 helps him when they’re on the pitch together. Müller makes space by forcing the defence to constantly cover him. As a result gaps open up for the Pole to push into.
This season is his ninth campaign with more than ten assists in the Bundesliga. That’s his ninth out of a total ten years in the league, mind you.
As often mentioned here on the blog, Müller is also the leader without the ball and organises Bayern’s pressing in the second line. As a result, many turnovers in other areas can be indirectly attributed to him.
The game against Nuremberg, however, also showed well what Müller isn’t. The Bavarian isn’t a classic wide forward, as is required in Bayern’s system. He has neither the technique nor the speed to decide one-on-ones on the flanks in his favour consistently. On top of that, his crosses are very mixed.
Replacing an injured Gnabry with Müller is akin to giving yourself the kiss of death. If Müller is to play on the right wing, then it only works if you put a central midfielder on his side who supports him. Far too often he drifts centrally himself, meaning the wing is left unoccupied.
In the past, that has worked particularly well in cooperation with Tolisso for example. The Frenchman pushing out wide as well as Kimmich pushing high up made for a dangerous triangle on the right. Even when Müller then moved centrally, the flank was still well occupied.
A system that could find itself in use more often next season with a recuperated Tolisso under Kovač, since it would allow for compact positioning out of possession.