Thomas Muller picked up where he left off last season, scoring a hat-trick in Bayern Munich’s first competitive match of the 2013-14 campaign—a 5-0 DFB-Pokal win at BSV Rehden.
The 23-year-old played the full 90 minutes in Lower Saxony on Monday, and with his treble, he has now tallied eight times in his last eight matches in all competitions. The other five came in some of the biggest matches in Bayern history last spring as the Bundesliga giants claimed league, cup and Champions League honours.
But for Muller personally, the performance will have surely cemented his place in new manager Pep Guardiola’s plans at the outset of what promises to be an intriguing nine months in the Bavarian capital.
Keen to stamp his own influence on a Bayern side that won everything there was to win last season, Guardiola tinkered with formations and strategies during an extended preseason schedule that left many observers underwhelmed.
But in reverting to the 4-2-3-1 that delivered such unprecedented success last term, and in using Muller in a central role behind lone striker Mario Mandzukic, the Spaniard seemed to suggest he wouldn’t try to fix an unbroken system in which the entire Bayern squad seemed to thrive under previous manager Jupp Heynckes.
And that should come as music to Muller's ears, who caught fire after being moved to the middle following an April injury to Toni Kroos.
Late that month, after Bayern had already seen off Juventus at the quarterfinal stage of the Champions League, Muller scored three goals in two matches against Barcelona in the semifinals and also found the back of the net in both his side’s penultimate Bundesliga match and the DFB-Pokal final against Stuttgart. He also registered three assists over the same stretch.
It was a five-week period that put to rest the horrors of the previous campaign once and for all. Having scored 19 goals in each of his first two seasons at Bayern, Muller managed only 11 in a 2011-12 schedule in which his development seemed to take a step back.
The late-season offensive flurry put a final stop to the decline, and with Monday’s hat-trick, the attacker appears poised to do even better than the 23 goals he bagged in 2012-13.
Twice he worked his way into space to convert a free header against Rehden, and just before the hour-mark he drew a penalty off Stefan Heyken that he proceeded to arrow into the bottom far corner of the goal.
And if that wasn’t enough of an impact, with only two minutes left on the clock, and with a defender draped all over him, he somehow knocked the ball over to Arjen Robben as he fell to ground and ended up with an assist on the final goal of the night.
Yes, it was a cup game early in the season, and yes, it was against a fourth-tier opponent in a tiny northwestern town. But Muller’s performance showed that he means business, and with Guardiola hardly short of options in attack, that can only be a good thing—both for the forward and his club.