Mueller needs festive rest to help restore lost touch

Christmas will be a time for reflection for Thomas Mueller after a year which has been heavy going at times for the fleet-footed Bayern Munich and Germany attacking midfielder. The last game of the year — Wednesday’s 3-0 victory over Leipzig in the top-of-the-table clash — saw Mueller spend 90 minutes on the substitutes’ bench. Mueller’s apparent effortlessness and knack of being in the right place at the right time appear to have vanished for the moment. The winter break comes at the right time for the 27-year-old to enjoy the festive period with his wife Lisa away from football.
“This holiday is important for me to switch off a bit and recharge my batteries,” Mueller said this week.
Against Leipzig, coach Carlo Ancelotti had no use for Mueller in a 4-2-3-1 system normally just right for the midfielder-cum-forward. Instead Spain’s Thiago Alcantara shone in the Mueller role.
“The idea for Thiago was for him to play between Leipzig’s defensive lines. He did it well,” Ancelotti said.
After the game, Mueller had to hear Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge say the loss of a starting place was “motivation that the players have to do one or two things better in 2017.”
So far this Bundesliga season, Mueller has scored just two goals, plus two in the Champions League.
Like Mueller, French winger Franck Ribery was also left out of the starting line up against Leipzig.
“Today you need 16, 17, 18 players. We have a lot of quality, and then you have two or three players sitting outside who are not happy,” Rummenigge said.
Ancelotti had made it clear before the game that playing 4-2-3-1 was not exclusively to accommodate a roving player like Mueller.
A particular tactical system is in any case not the key for the Italian coach, rather the need to find the right balance and to fill the central spaces between attacking and defensive lines.
It is not a risk to play with four forwards, but it is a risk to play without the right balance, he says.
Mueller, the free spirit, is now competing for a role between the lines with a player such as Thiago, who links play well, is enjoying his best season in a Bayern shirt and has played in 22 of 25 games.
Former Bayern coach Louis van Gaal’s comment that “Mueller always play” is still, however, pertinent. Mueller has also featured in 22 games, but what once came easy has deserted him of late, not least the goals.
The rot seemed to set in with a penalty miss in the Champions League semifinal against Atletico Madrid.
Mueller then failed to find the net for Germany at Euro 2016 in France, and 999 minutes passed in the Bundesliga before he could celebrate a goal in the 5-0 thrashing of Wolfsburg. It has not been entirely an uphill struggle though. Unlike in the league, Mueller has been finding the net for Germany this season, with five goals making him the national team’s top scorer since Euro 2016. — DPA

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