Will Bayern Munich’s Thomas Muller be Germany’s World Cup star again?

LEVERKUSEN, GERMANY - JUNE 08: Thomas Mueller of Germany gestures during the international friendly match between Germany and Saudi Arabia at BayArena on June 8, 2018 in Leverkusen, Germany. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)
LEVERKUSEN, GERMANY - JUNE 08: Thomas Mueller of Germany gestures during the international friendly match between Germany and Saudi Arabia at BayArena on June 8, 2018 in Leverkusen, Germany. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images) /

Bayern Munich forward Thomas Muller has always been a star for Germany on the international stage. But can he do it again at the World Cup this summer?

History is on his side

With 10 goals combined across his last two World Cups, Thomas Muller has already solidified himself as a legend for the German national team. His five goals in South Africa saw him win the Golden Boot, along with the Best Young Player award. His same tally in Brazil four years ago was only bested by his now-teammate James Rodriguez. Muller also won the Silver Ball for that tournament, a testament to his all-around impressiveness throughout.

Although Muller’s goalscoring exploits at club level have diminished slightly in recent seasons, he’ll still be expected to carry much of the load for Germany in Russia this summer. However, his burden will certainly be lightened by Joachim Low’s other attacking options.

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A right fit in the right system

One of the toughest jobs for any Bayern manager is finding a way to incorporate Muller into their starting XI. His unorthodox style of play and unique skillset mean there’s not any player quite like him, thus it can be difficult integrating him into a system. Just ask Carlo Ancelotti.

Joachim Low, however, has never had an issue fitting the raumdeuter into his starting lineup. Muller has been Low’s right-sided attacking midfielder of choice for the better part of the past decade. He has occasionally lined up as a striker or even a central attacking midfielder, but more often than not Muller runs the right flank for the Nationalelf.

His role isn’t as a traditional winger, though. Muller isn’t tasked with beating his man one-on-one and firing a quick cross across the line. Germany’s real width on the right flank will come from overlapping full-back Joshua Kimmich.

Muller will instead work in tandem with Mesut Ozil, roaming in toward the penalty box and interpreting space as he goes. This allows him to pop up in the most unexpected of places and score his typical Thomas Muller goals. But Mesut Ozil isn’t the only star Muller has to work with in attack.

Germany’s (somewhat) new-look attack

A good deal has changed for Die Mannschaft in the past four years, especially in attack. After Miroslav Klose’s retirement following the 2014 World Cup, Germany spent the next two or three years searching for an adequate striker to lead their line.

Enter Timo Werner. The RB Leipzig forward has emerged as his nation’s undisputed best center-forward and will be the focal point of Die Mannschaft’s attack this summer.

On the left flank, Marco Reus looks to finally be fit for a major international tournament. The Borussia Dortmund star will be a huge asset to his nation in their quest for the trophy. If it’s not Reus playing on the left flank, then Julian Draxler will take his place. Although the winger has at times struggled at club level, he generally steps up his game with Germany, as he did when captaining the Nationalelf to victory in last summer’s Confederations Cup.

Meanwhile, Mesut Ozil is still a mainstay of Joachim Low’s side and provides brilliant creativity from the center of attacking midfield.

With such an impressive corps of offensive forces around him, there’s not nearly as much pressure on Thomas Muller to score as in the 2016 Euros. Does this mean he’ll be less involved in the attack? Not at all. If anything, this will only make him even more of a threat.

While opposition defenses are focused on keeping up with Timo Werner’s blistering pace, shutting down Marco Reus’ fantastic eye for goal or closing down Mesut Ozil before he picks out his killer pass, Thomas Muller will be using his extraordinary off-ball movement to find space and create a goalscoring opportunity. All that will be left is for him to bury his chance.

Questions of form and confidence

There’s no denying Muller’s role as a goalscorer has somewhat faded in recent seasons, at club level at least. Ever since his missed penalty against Atletico Madrid in the ’15-16 Champions League semi-finals, Muller hasn’t quite looked himself in front of goal. Instead of firing a somewhat difficult shot at goal, he’ll now instead look for a pass. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.

He was never the most lethal of forwards, but he’s certainly taken a step back in the last two years. That being said, Muller’s goalscoring form did pick up significantly after Jupp Heynckes took over this season. There were still times where he looked lack for confidence in the box, but overall he improved from the beginning of the season to the end.

Muller hasn’t been completely ineffective for Bayern Munich in the past few seasons, though. His role has simply changed. In each of the last two seasons, the Raumdeuter has been his team’s top provider. His 14 assists this season was the Bundesliga’s best, even. While his confidence as a goalscorer may have taken a hit, his ability is definitely still in tact.

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Just six goals shy of the all-time World Cup goalscoring record, it’s not too unrealistic to imagine Thomas Muller claiming that record as his own before his career ends. Will he do it this summer? Probably not. But he just might get a lot closer than many expect. Germany’s attack is loaded, and many team’s will be too focused on stopping Die Mannschaft’s more technically gifted offensive stars. The space will be there for Muller to find and exploit. He’ll have his chances to score some goals; he simply has to put those chances in the back of the net.