Bayern Munich said goodbye to the Champions League with decency. The contours of head coach Thoms Tuchel’s tactical concept are becoming sharper. Meanwhile, it still seems unclear what role Thomas Müller could play in the future.
One attribute that was often read in connection with Bayern’s performance against Manchester City on Wednesday night was “committed”. The hosts would have put in a more committed performance in the second leg of the Champions League than in the previous week at the Etihad Stadium. The impression was created, among other things, because Bayern shifted their positions more clearly and more frequently in the build-up game.
In contrast to the first leg, when Bayern wanted to defend the ball against City’s pressing in a six-on-six in their own third of the field, there were more players in the Allianz Arena for short pass combinations.
The pass through City’s offensive four-man line in particular should be an important means of advancing your own attack faster. City’s pressing was broken quickly as a result, and more of the England team had to try to get back behind the ball afterwards. In the best case, this resulted in vertical pass relays for Bayern in the direction of Ederson’s goal.
However, if Bayern couldn’t start the build-up quickly, they were faced with similar problems as in the previous games. City’s pressing triggers initiated an aggressive advance from the English and put pressure on Dayot Upamecano in particular. If space was gained safely, Leroy Sané and Jamal Musiala lacked a target player for triangle combinations in the front rooms. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, when positioned up front, went under within City’s central defence.
Thomas Müller against Manchester City only reservist
Thomas Müller was not on the pitch until the 72nd minute, which, apart from the disappointing result and the troubled atmosphere in the club, raised the question of whether the eternal Bayern player could still play an important role under Tuchel. In the league and cup, Müller has always played from the start since Tuchel took office, in the quarter-finals of the Champions League the 33-year-old only played as a reserve player.
Before the second leg, Tuchel gave a comparatively detailed explanation of the decision to leave Müller on the bench. He didn’t choose the veteran for the starting eleven, “because I expect the same game in which we have to cross the zone from deep possession to the goal, those 60 meters, with speed, speed dribbles and runs.” That is “a characteristic that Thomas is not tailor-made for”. Müller was “absolute world class in the last 25 meters, with rebounds, with short, stuck balls, with very short walks into the box.”
Since City is currently one of the most dynamic top teams with the most wide-ranging action and Bayern had to start gaining space very quickly from deep build-up play, Tuchel saw a worse option in Müller than in the faster-paced Sané, Musiala and Kingsley Coman. However, the duels with City are an exception, because there is no other opponent in the game plan.
Thomas Müller is not and will not remain a target player
Müller’s sporting future will be decided in other games. Under Tuchel’s leadership, he was particularly able to shine in the 4-2 win against Borussia Dortmund. Since then, the new head coach has tried to further transform the team to his liking. Unlike his predecessors Julian Nagelsmann and Hansi Flick, Tuchel would like to take more measured risks when in possession of the ball. The full-backs under him no longer move far forward immediately after the first build-up phase, but initially keep an eye on the remaining defense; Incidentally, that didn’t always work out against City.
In midfield, value is placed on the mentioned line-breaking passes and shifts to the outside. However, in the previous games with Tuchel on the sidelines, some offensive schemes could be seen. The 49-year-old head trainer is looking for the optimal recipe with Choupo-Moting in front or an alternative variant. In any case, Müller will not be able to replace the target player and ball holder, who has not existed since Robert Lewandowski left.
His strengths are known to lie in his forward movement, his timing and the recognition of spaces. At times Müller played big against Dortmund because, for example, Leon Goretzka pulled BVB six Emre Can a little to the left and thus opened up space for Müller, who could run in diagonally from the right – either in the zone in front of the defense or directly into the Dortmund defensive line in.
Striker question also crucial for Thomas Müller
As always, we are dealing with the well-known Müller problem: On paper, Musiala fulfills the requirements placed on the ten in 4-2-3-1 or the high eight in 4-3-3 better than Müller. In addition, the wingers in the Tuchel system ideally have the right speed to free themselves for transfers or to quickly pull diagonally into the middle. A role as a slightly indented second ten would be conceivable, whereby the full-back behind would have to move up faster as a player providing width, which in turn would be somewhat contrary to Tuchel’s basic ball possession orientation.
But as so often in Müller’s career so far, he will hold his ground as a semi-regular player for a while. Musiala can’t play all the games anyway and goes through dips like everyone else. In addition, Müller’s style of play in the last third of the field is compatible with a higher-positioned Goretzka. There was this variant against BVB and it could be used from time to time if Tuchel wants to pull apart a double six with Goretzka and Müller.
However, Müller’s performance – like that of the entire team – depends on the striker question. Müller has always shone in his career when he cooperated with a physically present striker. Choupo-Moting can certainly give the part-time nine, but it is not the big solution that is now being discussed publicly by the Bayern executive floor.
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