Robert Lewandowski may be on fire, but who lays on more of his goals than anyone else at Bayern Munich? Joshua Kimmich? Philippe Coutinho? Serge Gnabry? No, it's Thomas Müller.
If you need to pinch yourself, now might be the time. Kimmich was only second to Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho in the assist charts last season; Gnabry is doing things magicians usually reserve for children’s parties; and Coutinho’s nickname is 'the magician'. They’ve all played more than Müller so far this term, they’ve all scored more - but not one of them has provided more goals.
This really does make for some stat-tastic reading. Despite accumulating just 905 minutes of first-team football in 2019/20 - significantly less than Kimmich (1,601), Gnabry (1,128) and still a nudge below Coutinho (911) - Müller has chipped in with a JOINT-LEAGUE-LEADING six Bundesliga assists, as well as a further two in three UEFA Champions League outings. The 30-year-old may have moved past 500 Bayern appearances, but he’s still got it - just ask Lewandowski.
"It’s easier with Thomas next to me," Lewandowski - furnished six times by Müller this season alone - has said time and again of the self-styled Raumdeuter (space interpreter). "He helps me out a lot; we complement each other very well. Thomas is always heading towards the opposition goal, with a lot of movement. We always have one player more in the penalty area when he plays, I have more space and not always two or three opponents against me. Maybe we’ll play together more often."
It’s verging on a travesty that Lewandowski even has to moot the idea, but football is a fitful business and coaches have to make sacrifices - even at the expense of one of the modern game’s most versatile and unpredictable performers. A square peg that can’t be pigeon-holed, yet can deliver in myriad attacking roles - Müller’s unique blend of tangible and intangible qualities have, for the most part, worked in his favour. Players don’t reach 502 first-team appearances - registering 187 goals and 175 assists - at Germany’s most successful club by accident.
First there’s the engine. In his 10 full seasons as a Bundesliga player, Müller has never missed more than six games of a 34-match campaign. Then there is the taker of chances: 110 league goals, spread over 87 matches - all either won or drawn. And finally there is Müller the maker of 130 goals in 329 appearances. The Bayern youth product has only failed to post double figures for single-season assists twice - when he scored a career-best 20 in 2015/16, and last season with James Rodriguez for competition in the No.10 role.
Watch: Thomas Müller's roots
The footballing phantom that he is, Müller still managed to outdo the Real Madrid playmaker, and is once again setting the bar as Bayern’s midfield-provider-in-chief in 2019/20. With a brace of assists in the 6-1 rout of Mainz, one for the opener in the 1-1 draw with title rivals RB Leipzig, and a consolatory effort in the surprise 2-1 home defeat to Hoffenheim, Müller has his inimitable nose for goal provision out in front of Kimmich, Gnabry and Coutinho (all three).
Throw in his two assists against Olympiacos in the Champions League, and in the 4-0 Klassiker victory over Dortmund - where he set up goals Lewandowski and Gnabry - and it’s little wonder Coutinho would rather be playing alongside the Bayern No. 25 rather than against him. "Thomas is a magnificent player," the Barcelona loanee said after lining up in the same team as Müller for only the second time in the Bundesliga Matchday 9 win over Union Berlin. "I feel really good alongside him."
Prior to leaving his role as coach, Niko Kovac shared those good vibrations. Less than two months after declaring a Müller-Coutinho combo as "too attacking, and not an an option", the Bayern coach performed a tactical volte face. Müller began six successive matches on the bench for the first time in his career between September and October, but slotted straight back into the starting line-up alongside Coutinho in the wins over Olympiacos and Union. While the eight-time Bundesliga winner didn’t add to his pair of Olympiacos assists when Union came to town, he did invade more space (7.5 miles) and make more runs (89) than any other player on the pitch.
And under interim coach Hansi Flick, Müller's impact has been even more pronounced. Clearly seen as an integral member of Flick's side, Müller has played the full 90 minutes of the former Germany assistant coach's two matches in charge thus far. The result has been emphatic, with back-to-back wins over first Olympiacos in the Champions League and then rivals Dortmund in the league with six goals scored, none conceded and not a single shot on target registered by their opposition.
"I've known Thomas for a little longer [than Kovac]," Flick explained after taking on the role. "He is important for the club, has won everything that is to win except the Euros. He is intelligent and can lead a team."
Müller has now started 10 of his 17 appearances for Bayern in 2019/20, yet he's fifth in the club scoring charts (two), and out on his own for assists (eight). Only Lewandowski (23) and Gnabry (13) have a superior combined tally.
"Obviously I want to start games, nobody likes being on the bench," said Müller of his early-season return. "I’m in top condition and hungry for success. I’m in no doubt I can help the team with my abilities."