Thomas Muller is a world class player. But unlike other world class players, who busy themselves all over the pitch, taking on three or four players before dinking the keeper, Muller is all about one thing. End product.
So many footballers ooze skill and grace on the ball, gliding past defenders and pinging lovely cross field passes. But when they get near the opposition area, they choke, and the final ball or shot on goal goes astray.
This can be a lack of confidence, or indeed a lack of skill. These are two attributes that, in the final third, Thomas Muller certainly does not lack. And that’s why he is a player to watch at this year’s world cup.
A player so good, yet with a playing style so enigmatic, the only way that Football Manager could categorise him was to create an entire player role based on his technique.
In this clip, he see’s the free kick is being hit long, so he instantly turns himself into a centre-forward, giving the defenders two strikers to deal with all of a sudden. This sudden switch in attack leads to another goal for the German.
Raumdeuter, as I’m sure we are all well aware of by now, means “space investigator”. Muller is someone who won’t force the issue, but will remain in space, to impact the play high up the pitch, when he needs to.
This isn’t to say that he only operates in attack. His high “Work Rate” and “Teamwork” stats are a testament to this. But his teammates are willing to do the hard work around him because they can rely on him to stick the ball in the back of the net when it comes his way.
This works particularly well at his club team, Bayern. As Lewandowski heads the attack, Vidal and Thiago barrel around the midfield and Robben or Ribery run the other wing, Muller can go unnoticed. Until the last second when he invariably plays an inch-perfect pass for an assist, or slams the ball home for yet another goal.
Set pieces sum his game up beautifully. He often starts at the near post, regimented position, much like in open play. But as the ball comes in, he weaves around the box, taking his marker with him, trying to create space.
He’s not a small man, he’s easy to track, and if the ball comes his way you’d fancy him to win the header. But he’d rather find himself space, so he is in the prime position to snatch a rebound or for the ball to drop.
It’s not pretty, but he racks up goals more consistently year on year than most world class players, and it is that that makes him special.
His first thought is always to get forward. Look at these snapshots from FM. He is the winger, Lewandowski the striker, but as soon as the Pole heads over to the wing to collect the ball, Muller shifts inside and drives towards the box.
Within 4 seconds he has travelled from the right wing on the halfway line, to the centre of the opposition box.
The speed with which he does it (intelligence rather than physical pace) means that the defenders are always behind him, so when the ball comes in, it’s a simple finish.
Out and Out
For Germany it is different. He is often asked to play a different role, a much more defined position, taking up the centre-forward spot. Here he uses his considerable physical attributes and lethal finishing to score goals, but also to bring others into play.
At the World Cup four years ago, Muller played this role, mainly because there were few others up to the task. Miroslav Klose was the only out and out striker, but he was 35, and lacked the physique to spearhead a Cup winning team for the whole tournament.
Muller grabbed 5 goals in Brazil, but was the only source of goals in the team. This year, Muller may find himself in more familiar territory, playing off another striker, Timo Werner.
There will be many world class players in Russia this summer, all with their own style and skill. But there are few with as much passion and drive to score as Thomas Muller