Thomas Müller is closing in on an eighth Bundesliga title with Bayern Munich. - © 2018 DFL
Thomas Müller is closing in on an eighth Bundesliga title with Bayern Munich. - © 2018 DFL
bundesliga

Thomas Müller: The key to Bayern Munich's title defence in the run-in?

The NASA-like master of space interpretation, Thomas Müller is coming into devastating form at a decisive stage of the season for Niko Kovac’s Bayern Munich as the defending champions chase a 28th Bundesliga title.

Leaping backwards, while stooping low and somehow swivelling a header into the path of Serge Gnabry to tap home the third in Bayern’s 4-1 win over Fortuna Düsseldorf, the unorthodox enigma of Müller was laid bare.

The self-titled "Raumdeuter" was once again displaying his almost telepathic understanding of the space both he and his teammates inhabit on a football pitch at any given time, as well as his uncanny ability to either find, or be found, by them.

"He's intangible," said Kovac of the 29-year-old. "He helps everywhere, which makes him so valuable."

And Müller is certainly, once again, proving his immense value when Bayern need him most.

Watch: Thomas Müller's journey to footballing stardom

That assist for Gnabry’s goal was the fourth in five games provided by Müller, who has come back into the Bayern fold since March, leaving a trail of goals in his wake. An unused substitute on Matchday 21 and then a late substitute in the respective 3-2 and 1-0 wins over Augsburg and Hertha Berlin that followed, Müller would also miss Bayern’s UEFA Champions League exit to English Premier League side Liverpool.

It seemed to raise question marks over what space was free in the Bayern starting XI for Müller to interpret. "There was a phase around the Liverpool games, where I was not so much used," said the seven-time Bundesliga winner.

But Müller has, typically, responded in eye-catching fashion. Since his return to the line-up, Bayern have notched up a six-match unbeaten run that has included five high-scoring victories over Borussia Mönchengladbach (5-1), Wolfsburg (6-0), Mainz (6-0), Borussia Dortmund (5-0) and Düsseldorf (4-1).

Thomas Müller and Serge Gnabry (l-r.) have developed a fruitful understanding in the Bayern attack. - CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images

To go with his four assists in that period, Müller has also contributed two goals of his own and maintained this mind-boggling stat: Bayern have never lost in the Bundesliga when the former Germany international has scored. It is a record that includes 110 league goals spread over 82 Bundesliga victories and five draws, beginning with a brace in the 5-1 humbling of Dortmund back on 12 September 2009.

If that wasn’t enough, those around him clearly benefit from the manner in which Müller pulls defenders out of position with his unrivalled intelligence and movement.

The two biggest beneficiaries this season are Gnabry and Robert Lewandowski, with the former scoring four of his nine goals so far thanks to Müller provision. Lewandowski, meanwhile, has eight goals in the six Bundesliga outings since Müller was restored to the team from kick-off against Gladbach.

"It’s easier with Thomas next to me," Lewandowski has said of his partner-in-crime Müller. "He helps me out a lot; we complement each other very well.

Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski (l-r.) have a combined 27 goals and 14 assists in the Bundesliga this season. - Matthias Hangst/Bongarts/Getty Images

"Thomas's path is always forward, with a lot of movement. We always have one player more in the penalty area, I have more space and not always two or three opponents against me."

Lewandowski is clearly enjoying seeing Müller deployed in a more advanced role, a switch that occurred during that crucial Der Klassiker victory over Dortmund. As Kovac explained: "We've come to the point now where we know it works best with Thomas Müller and Thiago in the central areas. They really had a go at Dortmund's holding players."

While in the words of Müller: "It's no secret in German football that my strengths are put to best use through the middle."

Müller is certainly being put to good use as Bayern hunt a fifth consecutive German championship, and if he continues in this form they’ll more than likely succeed. Especially if he’s scoring goals...