Having fended off competition from James Rodriguez and Philippe Coutinho in recent years, Bayern Munich's Thomas Müller has now overtaken Kevin de Bruyne as the player with the most assists in a single Bundesliga season.
To put that into perspective, nobody has ever created as many goals by this stage in a campaign since detailed data collection began almost 30 years ago. De Bruyne was the previous record holder, having chalked up 19 assists in 2014/15 with Wolfsburg, but doing so across the campaign’s full 34 games, while RB Leipzig’s Emil Forsberg also posted 19 in his 30 outings across 2016/17.
“I call him 'chef', chef Thomas Müller," teammate Alphonso Davies told bundesiga.com after Bayern’s triumph over Leverkusen. "He gives you assists, he gives you goals, whatever you need. He's a big part of the team and him setting a record is an amazing achievement."
Few would argue with that. Indeed, the 30-year-old has had a direct hand in more goals than anybody else since Hansi Flick took the reins at the Allianz Arena in November last year, scoring seven and setting up 15 to help propel Bayern back on course for an unprecedented eighth consecutive Meisterschale.
At first glance, such clinical ruthlessness appears to be at odds with his jovial, laid-back persona, although it could equally be argued that a relaxed approach is essential in order to perform at the highest level. Regardless, what is clear is that his boy-next-door charm masks a steely desire to succeed.
Watch: A closer look at Müller the Raumdeuter
“Thomas is a player who can lead the team very well and he’s always giving instructions to his teammates,” said Flick of the Bayern number 25 recently. “I’d describe him like this: he comes across as really easy-going but he’s also got this unbending will to win every game.”
If that grit has evidently served him well this season, it also brought out the best of him in recent campaigns. James Rodriguez was signed on a two-year loan from Real Madrid ahead of 2017/18, yet far from complaining about a superstar international being brought in for his preferred position just behind the striker, Müller simply knuckled down even further and upped his game.
In that 2017/18 season, Müller played in more Bundesliga games than James (29 to 23), scored more goals (8/7) and provided more assists (16/11). He was even better in 2018/19, making 32 appearances to James’ 20, again registering more combined goals and assists (6/12) than the Colombian (7/4). There will inevitably have been a number of factors in the decision not to make James’ move to the Allianz Arena a permanent one, but it is hard to imagine Müller’s immovable presence not being one of them.
It has been a similar story this term. Coutinho was Bayern’s headline transfer in summer 2019 on a year-long loan from Barcelona, but any predictions that he would oust Müller have likewise been proven wrong.
The Brazilian has admittedly suffered with injuries, form and fitness for much of the season, but even his mercurial talents have been unable to permanently dislodge Müller from Flick’s side. The Bavarian native’s qualities are famously tricky to describe: he is not a traditional forward, winger or playmaker, neither is he the quickest, strongest or most skilful on the ball. And yet he appears to have a sixth-sense that tells him where and when to be at the right time.
Flick was not shy in expressing his appreciation for exactly that after Bayern’s 5-2 win over Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 27: “We have to single out Thomas Müller today. He made use of the spaces in a very intelligent way and was involved in several of the goals.”
The player himself simply calls it being able to “put a Thomas Müller stamp on games” – and in April the club made sure there will be plenty more of that by handing him a contract extension until 2023.
As the chief beneficiary of Müller’s eye for a pass, Lewandowski has also profited. The Polish frontman has 30 Bundesliga goals to his name this term, eight of which have been laid on by the former Germany international. “We have a very good understanding out on the pitch,” said Lewandowski. “I really enjoy playing with him.” With a combined 60 Bundesliga goals and assists between them so far this season, it’s safe to say that it shows.