Why Thomas Mueller Will Be Key to Bayern Munich's Chances Against Dortmund
The all-German UEFA Champions League final is under a week away, and on paper one team walks into the match overwhelming favourites.
Bayern Munich have absolutely dominated the Bundesliga this season, smashing records left, right and centre. They won the title with a record number of games to spare, conceded just 18 goals but scored 98 and won a whopping 29 out of 34 fixtures.
They have also romped the Champions League, beating Juventus 4-0 and Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate on their way to the final. The team they will take on in the showpiece final just happens to be Borussia Dortmund—a side they finished 25 points clear of in the Bundesliga.
But while all the statistics suggest Bayern will win, Jupp Heynckes knows he has a major battle on his hands.
For the two seasons previous, BVB were the Bavarian side's chief tormentors. Consecutive league wins for Juergen Klopp's men had Uli Hoeness and co. fuming, while a 5-2 defeat in the DFB Pokal final left a sour taste in many fans' mouths.
This season has carried the theme of revenge, and victory over Klopp's charges at Wembley would complete the mission.
And of all the 11 players Heynckes fields on Saturday, May 25, Thomas Mueller has become more key than ever.
Both sides will play loose variations of the 4-2-3-1 formation, and with Toni Kroos ruled out for the season Mueller will step inside once more and play as a No. 10.
Sides who have successfully frustrated Dortmund this season are those who have managed to nullify Ilkay Gunodgan's influence on the game, as he has become the creative hub and source of buildup play for BVB.
The No. 8 can slow up play and bring his side reprieve, charge forward, set Marco Reus off from a deep position or find Robert Lewandowski with a longer pass.
Mueller will be asked to fulfill the suffoco role, pressuring Gundogan and following him into deep areas to minimise his time on the ball. With man-to-man marking on him, Bayern can force BVB to take a different approach in their buildup play.
For BVB this isn't a massive issue as Klopp often moves the playmaker role from one player to another, but losing the influence of Gundogan will affect their game.
It's that defensive commitment, running and energy that has seen Mueller fully endeared by die Bayern's fans, but he's just as useful on the offensive side of the ball too.
He will look to drift from his central position when Bayern have the ball, creating overloads on the left or right with Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. His link-up play with Mario Mandzukic is perfect, and together they will work some neat triangles and pull Dortmund's defenders around.
That movement is integral to how Bayern go forward, but perhaps his finest attribute is his ability to score clutch goals.
If it's 0-0 at 85 minutes, who would you put money on to score the killer goal? Of course it's Mueller, and he's got the pedigree of a UCL final goal against Chelsea in his pocket to suggest he can do it again.
Mueller is the complete package: Movement, footballing brains, defensive awareness and team ethic all rolled into one. He will play in the position that will hurt Dortmund the most should he perform his duties well and has the ability to come up big when needed.
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