A Müller for all Seasons: Durability, Versatility, Mentality
Since the formation of the Bundesliga, no outfield player has reached 600 competitive appearances for Bayern Munich…until this weekend. Thomas Müller is set to make the landmark on Friday, so we look back at his career with the record champions of Germany.
Thomas Müller is expected to make his 600th competitive appearance for Bayern Munich in their Friday night Bundesliga clash away at Augsburg, becoming the first outfield player since the inception of the Bundesliga in 1963 to do so for the record champions.
With an enviable honours list including 10 Bundesliga titles, two Champions League successes and lifting the 2014 World Cup with Germany, Müller is one of the biggest winners currently playing in world football – something that’s clear from any interview with the Bayern star following a defeat, with his anger reflected over every spoken word. This epitomises Müller – an emotional leader whose drive for victory allows no room for mediocrity, no matter the stage.
A key factor in Müller’s long career has been his versatility. Across his Bayern Munich career, the German international has played under 10 different managers and has always found a place in their plans. The beginning of his career saw him act as more of a central midfielder under Louis van Gaal, before moving further up field under the stewardship of Pep Guardiola, while the tenures of Hansi Flick and Julian Nagelsmann saw him become more of a creator than a goalscorer.
Louis van Gaal once famously proclaimed that Müller always plays because he can trust him to be where he needs to be. Bayern managers usually tend to agree with van Gaal’s assessment as Müller has collected 394 Bundesliga appearances since his debut in August 2008 – more than any other player during that period. He made just four of a possible 34 Bundesliga appearances in his first season in the competition following his debut in August 2008, but across the following 13 German top-flight seasons, Müller has astonishingly missed only 29 matches in total. Between 2009-10 and 2020-21, the experienced German has appeared in at least 28 league games in every single campaign – the only Bundesliga player to do so. All of that is a testament to Müller’s third great contribution next to his mentality and versatility: durability. As they say, the best ability is availability.
In Müller’s early days as a Bundesliga player, he made a name for himself as a goalscoring midfielder, scoring 13 goals in the Bundesliga and 19 in all competitions for Bayern in his breakout season in 2009-10, which was followed by winning the Golden Ball at the 2010 World Cup for Germany (five goals). This goal rate was sustained in all but one of the following five seasons, with 2011-12 the anomaly, before his best-ever goalscoring season in 2015-16. In that campaign – his eighth as a professional, Müller scored 32 goals in 49 appearances with an additional 10 assists. Those 42 goal involvements were his most in a single season at Bayern, with his goals coming every 119 minutes on average.
Unfortunately for Müller, the departure of Pep Guardiola – under whom he arguably played his most effective football under at the club – and the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti, saw him move to a deeper role as more of the playmaker in the side, thus taking away his goal threat as a late arrival in the box.
In 2016-17 under Ancelotti, Müller averaged a goal every 334 minutes in all competitions, and he scored just five times in the Bundesliga – his lowest tally of goals in a full Bundesliga season. His Bundesliga expected goals per 90 dropped from 0.49 to 0.31 across the two seasons, this despite a slight increase of touches per 90 in the box under Ancelotti, as shown in the touch map comparison above. However, this overall deeper role saw him become a creative force for the record German champions – his 15 assists in 42 games being five higher than he managed from seven appearances more in 2015-16 (10 in 49 apps).
In the three seasons after Guardiola left, Müller was managed by three different permanent coaches at Bayern (excluding caretakers): Ancelotti, Jupp Heynckes and Niko Kovac. During that period, Müller collected a lot of experience in different playing styles and learned to detect spaces from where he could bring his teammates into dangerous positions. But it was the arrival of Flick in 2019-20 that led to a renaissance for Müller, as he changed his focus towards being a playmaker higher up the pitch and generating chances for teammates – a shift that saw a phenomenal return.
Müller assisted a remarkable 25 goals in 50 competitive appearances for Bayern under Flick’s management in 2019-20. Twenty-one of those came in the Bundesliga alone to establish a new single-season competition record. Across the big five European leagues, only Kevin De Bruyne (104) created more chances from open play than the German (81), while Müller has the highest expected assists total from open play across all five of the top-flight leagues (13.5), averaging 0.54 per 90 – another high.
So far in 2021-22, under new Bayern coach Nagelsmann, Müller has further developed his playing style. Not only is he the leading assist maker across the big five European leagues this season with his eight assists as well as creating the most open-play chances for teammates (31), but his open-play expected assists per 90 average of 0.36 is also higher than any other player to have played at least 700 minutes of league football. But it’s not just the final pass in the move that is earning Müller plaudits. His importance earlier in passing sequences cannot be underestimated.
His 20 secondary chances created – the pass played before the assist for a shot/goal – lead all players across Europe’s big five leagues in 2021-22. Analysing open-play sequences further, you will find Müller’s name pop up at the top in various categories:
- He has been involved in 17 open-play sequences leading to a goal in this season’s Bundesliga – a tally only surpassed by Mohamed Salah (20) in Europe’s big five leagues.
- Müller has initiated six open-play sequences that ended in a goal in this season’s Bundesliga – more than any other player in Europe’s big five leagues.
- He’s been involved in 25 open-play sequences where his only involvement was to create the chance, eight of which ended in an assist – leading all players in Europe’s big five leagues in both categories.
Müller just knows where to place himself to generate high-quality chances for his teammates, also indicated by his eight big chances created in the league this season – only surpassed by Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappé and Inter’s Nicolo Barella across the major European leagues (nine each). The 32-year-old really did himself justice when he coined his own nickname “Raumdeuter” – German for players adept at finding space and knowing how to position themselves on the pitch.
In addition to the exploits for his club side, he even seems to have regained his footing in the German national team. He’s been directly involved in at least one goal in each of his last four appearances for Germany – only in 2010 has he ever had a longer such run for Die Mannschaft (five in a row).
Just like a fine wine, Müller seems to get better with age – yet he may still have time on his side at 32. His adaptability has helped him enjoy a successful career, and after surpassing this landmark, setting the all-time Bayern Munich appearance record seems possible. He’s currently 101 games off doing so, with the legendary Sepp Maier on 700 appearances for the club. Whether he does go on to beat that record or not, Müller will always be considered a Bayern Munich great.
Enjoy this? Subscribe to our mailing list to receive exclusive weekly content.
Want to do your own analysis? Check out our Bundesliga stats page for advanced Opta data across a range of metrics.
Design by Briggs Clinard.