Thomas Muller vs Jamal Musiala: A fight that could ruin Bayern Munich
Let me start with some facts. One: Jamal Musiala is a generational talent. Two – Bayern Munich he needs Thomas Muller to play his best. Both things can be true at the same time.
Somehow these two players have clashed in an insidious narrative that threatens to derail the entire season. A significant part of Bayern Munich fans have become convinced that Thomas Muller should “step aside” and cede his starting job to Jamal Musiala. Unfortunately, based on what we saw against RB Leipzig on Friday, Julian Nagelsmann seems to agree.
Guess how that ended? Here is a summary.
Jamal Musiala is an incredible talent. Honestly, he could be Bayern’s best player this season. However, that doesn’t mean he can do it all alone. Against Leipzig, the 19-year-old was a shadow on the periphery of the game, unable to impact the game at all.
Positioned in the attacking midfield position behind Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Musiala found the going difficult. Marco Rose’s setup gave him no room to dribble, while heavy pressure from the RBL midfielders cut off his passing channels. He was effectively isolated from the likes of Leroy Sane and Serge Gnabry, who could have served as an outlet.
It was probably Musiala’s worst game of the season so far, and it was due to a tactical mismatch. The boy was begging someone to take that heat away from him, so he could find space to do what he does best. It just didn’t happen. Thanks to that, Bayern posted a tepid attacking performance, falling to a 1-1 draw.
Do you see where I’m going with this? That game against Leipzig was missing a key ingredient: someone to open up space. A spatial interpreter, if you will. Bayern had one of those in reserve, but it didn’t come on until the 83rd minute. What a waste.
If you can’t get Thomas Muller in your lineup, you’re doing something wrong. The managers who left him out, Carlo Ancelotti and Niko Kovac, are duly recognized as the worst managers Bayern have had in the last decade.
Simply put, coaches who bench Thomas Muller get fired. Julian Nagelsmann is now making the same mistake. It’s not that Ancelotti and Kovac didn’t have the talent or team depth to replace Muller, they did. Bayern Munich have gone through a wide range of possible “replacements” for Muller in the last ten years. Thiago Alcantara, Mario Gotze, James Rodriguez, Philippe Coutinho and now Jamal Musiala were dubbed “Muller replacements” at one point or another. However, Thomas Muller is still here.
Flick on Müller: “He knows where to stand. He also coaches the team on the pitch. He played on the right side today, but he’s still very, very important in the middle of our game. You could say he’s an outstretched arm for the coach “
— Bayern and Germany (@iMiaSanMia) October 21, 2020
Pep made Thiago and Muller work together. Jupp made successful lineups with both James and Muller. Flick… well, he just benched Coutinho. Successful coaches never committed to the space interpreter. They recognized the intangibles he brings to the game, especially his ability to organize attack, create space and lead the pressure from the front. Those who ignored this saw marked declines in performance and were inevitably fired.
Thomas Muller is the proverbial canary in the coal mine. Failure to include it is a sure sign of a tactically compromised system.
Now Nagelsmann’s point of view is easy to understand. Jamal Musiala is the first player in ten years to have a legitimate shot at usurping Muller from his position. Yes he is that well. That really alone makes it a proper Muller successor though, NOT a replacement. While the two are still in the club together, they can be made to coexist. That’s where the coach is going wrong. That’s where it went wrong vs Leipzig.
making it work
Nagelsmann has a roster ready to bring Muller and Musiala onto the pitch together. Musiala is already an incredible winger. After all, that’s where he got his chance for Bayern. Just play around with him, preferably on the left where he has great chemistry with Alphonso Davies. He lets the magic happen.
In fact, against Leipzig, we often saw the midfield become so crowded that Musiala automatically veered into a winger role just to get some space. It didn’t last long though, as he left a hole in attacking midfield that he had to refill. Imagine if he didn’t have to commit like that? How much better would Bayern be?
Heck, we don’t need to imagine. Muller and Musiala have played productive games against each other numerous times over the past two seasons. The idea that they cannot coexist and even complement each other is simply absurd. It’s only the stubbornness of the coach that prevents them from doing it again.
It’s crazy how we are in 2023 and the Muller debate is still a semi-annual occurrence. How many more times does this man need to prove himself? Yes, he had a bad World Cup, but so did all of Germany (except Musiala). On that basis, perhaps Kimmich and Goretzka should lose their spots to Sabitzer and Gravenberch. Except that’s not the debate we’re having.
Frankly, it’s annoying to have to point this out every few years. This article is not an automatic response to the Leipzig game, as this exact point was raised in our recorded podcast episode last Sunday. You can check it yourself below or on Spotify. Topic starts at 23:50 if you need a timestamp.
Thomas Muller AND Jamal Musiala need to play together, for the good of Bayern Munich. That’s all there is to say.