Germany need Bayern Munich’s Thomas Muller in the center of the pitch

Thomas Mueller of Germany looks on during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Group F match between Germany and Mexico at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia on June 17, 2018 (Photo by Andrew Surma/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Thomas Mueller of Germany looks on during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Group F match between Germany and Mexico at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia on June 17, 2018 (Photo by Andrew Surma/NurPhoto via Getty Images) /

Bayern Munich forward Thomas Muller can help Germany get back on track after a disappointing loss to Mexico in their World Cup opener.

Mexico shocked the world yesterday, defeating reigning world champions Germany 1-0 and looking the better team in doing so. There were several flaws exposed by El Tri in Joachim Low’s tactical set-up both offensively and defensively.

Although other changes must be made for Germany to succeed in this tournament, one of the first tactical moves Low should make is shifting Bayern Munich forward Thomas Muller from the right wing to his more comfortable position in the center of the pitch.

A better use of his talents

In past years, Thomas Muller has been used on the right flank to great effect — especially with the German national team. However, his effectiveness out wide pales in comparison with his capabilities playing through the center of the pitch.

He is still able to show his creative abilities while playing on the right, but his threat as a goalscorer takes a hit. He doesn’t quite have the speed or technical ability to be relied upon to beat his man one-on-one, a key component of playing on the wing.

When played in the middle, there’s no expectation for him to do that. Muller is given the freedom to roam where he pleases, popping up in the most unexpected of places, creating chances for both himself and his teammates.

Playing on the wing doesn’t completely negate Thomas Muller’s attacking capabilities, but it certainly doesn’t accentuate his particular set of talents.

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Pairing with Werner

There is one exception to Muller being a more effective player in the center of the park. He can’t be expected to play as a lone center-forward. His smart runs, creative movement and ability to find space where it is seemingly non-existent are all key parts of Muller’s game. These talents are dependent on Muller not being the focal point of an attack.

The raumdeuter must have a strike partner to pull the opposition defense’s focus off of him. That’s where Timo Werner comes in. The RB Leipzig striker is one of the most exiciting young talents at the tournament this summer.  He may have been a little disappointing against Mexico, but who wasn’t?

His speed and goalscoring threat will force opposition defenses to consistently mark him throughout the match, thus creating more space for Thomas Muller. On the flip side, Thomas Muller’s smart runs and creative capabilities will open space for Werner to get in behind his opponent’s defensive line.

Other threats from the wing

Moving Thomas Muller to the middle of the pitch and still playing a striker has a significant implication: Mesut Ozil will be dropped from the starting XI. The attacking midfielder, playing for Arsenal at club level, has historically been a great player with the German national team. However, his effectiveness with the national side has taken a hit recently.

With Marco Reus finally fit for a major tournament, the Borussia Dortmund winger must be given his chance — whether on the right wing or the left. Perhaps the best option would be to shift Muller into the center, where Ozil usually plays, and playing Reus on the right flank in place of Muller. Julian Draxler would maintain his place in the starting XI on the left flank.

Another option would be for Julian Brandt, who was actually impressive in his short cameo against Mexico, to play on the right and move Reus to the left. Either pairing would be more ideal than Germany’s current approach. All three of Brandt, Draxler and Reus are natural wingers, whereas Thomas Muller certainly is not.

Rather than having an over-reliance on Mesut Ozil’s playmaking capabilites, Germany’s direct playmaking threat would come from the wings, while Toni Kroos would still be expected to control the game with his metronomical passing from deeper in midfield, providing plenty of incisive passes to maintain creativity from the center of the park. Overall, it’d be a much more well-rounded attacking approach than the one Die Mannschaft currently rely upon.

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Germany’s next match comes against Sweden on Saturday. As Jerome Boateng said following the loss to Mexico, all matches from here on are must-win games for Die Mannschaft. Moving Thomas Muller to a more central position isn’t going to solve all of Germany’s issues, but it will add more threat to an attack that has looked rather stale recently.