After Bayern stuttered to a 2-1 win at the Weser Stadion to maintain their narrow lead over Borussia Dortmund, the questions after the match gave trainer Thomas Tuchel a sense of déjà-vu as the gathered reporters wanted to know why Thomas Müller was once again not a starter for the Rekordmeister. Tuchel and Bayern have thus far successfully batted away questions about the lack of starts for the club’s talisman and all seems relatively harmonious, but the Thomas Müller question will not go away and is set to give Tuchel more than a few headaches in the near future.
Thomas Müller has been here before. He has seen nine different Bayern coaches since starting out under Jürgen Klinsmann back in 2008 and at various times has seen his place in the side put under question. Each time he has acted the consummate professional and done his talking on the training pitch to prove his worth and come back stronger.
Now he finds himself under another new coach in Thomas Tuchel and with the new boss not finding a space in the starting XI for the Bayern legend, the questions surrounding his future are coming to the fore once again.
When Tuchel left Müller out of the Champions League quarter-final clash with Manchester City at the Etihad, his explanation that it wasn’t “a Thomas Müller match” opened a can of worms that he is still struggling to put the lid back on with more than a few wriggly creatures squirming in his lap.
“I’m a Müller fan myself; the Manchester games haven’t suited him perfectly otherwise he probably would have played,” Tuchel said. “Everything is fine at the moment. I was pleased with his reaction on the training ground yesterday.
“I was extremely impressed. He handled it in an exemplary way. But I have to make my decisions, sometimes they are difficult. There’s nothing personal. Everyone has to accept the competitive situation,” the coach added.
The argument in favour of pace and against Müller can be made, but the case for including his experience is the counter argument. Manchester City have amassed 58 Champions League wins overall, Müller alone has 99 to his name.
The City omission however hasn’t been a one-off with the Bayern legend also not a starter against either Hertha Berlin or Werder Bremen in Bayern’s last two Bundesliga outings. With Bayern facing their most serious challenge to their Bundesliga hegemony, you’d think they would need a player of Müller’s standing, but not so.
Tuchel’s explanation as to why Müller was only on the bench against Werder also raised a few eyebrows. “In general, all games are Thomas Müller games, but we have to make decisions. Thomas can always start, but I don’t think the wide positions today with Sadio and King are his profile. He can play centrally, but we’re playing in the half spaces today.”
This is the same Thomas Müller, nicknamed the ‘Raumdeuter’, who has made an art form out of playing in the half spaces. Tuchel’s choice of Sadio Mané baffles as he has continuously disappointed, while Jamal Musiala is also playing below his best and looks like he needs a rest to recharge his batteries.
The weekend football talk shows in Germany were all over the Tuchel/ Müller debate with differing points of view. Stefan Effenberg believes Müller won’t be a concern at the moment as he doesn’t want to rock the Bayern boat at a crucial stage of the season, but that the situation may change. “If you go into the new season with Müller on the bench, then you have a problem, but not at this point in the season. Now they won’t be starting any stress” the former Bayern captain told Stahlwerk Doppelpass.
Another former Bayern captain, Lothar Matthäus, also stoked the question when talking on Sky seeing Müller’s omission against Werder as “a very big exclamation point. “Müller does not play against Manchester because he is perhaps too slow, Müller does not play against Hertha BSC, bottom of the table. Then again today he is not playing against a team that is secured in midfield and is seven points away from a relegation zone. So where is he allowed to play anyway?
“It smells like problems arise between Müller and Tuchel. Thomas wants to play at the end of his career, he can’t be satisfied with the situation. You have to have an open conversation.”
All eyes will now turn to the Bayern starting line-up next week against Schalke and whether Müller returns. Tuchel as the new coach has to do what he thinks is right for the system and tactics he wishes to employ and personalities should play no role. However the figure of Thomas Müller looms incredibly large at Bayern and he is a player that commands a lot of gravitas amongst the fans and the rest of the squad.
With three games left, there is not much time left for the issue to blow up, but as Effenberg alludes, the Thomas Müller question is not going to go away and Tuchel may just be delaying the full fallout until next season.
Müller has outlasted Klinsmann, Louis van Gaal, Jupp Heynckes, Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti, Niko Kovac, Hansi Flick and Julian Nagelsmann. Whether he will outlast Thomas Tuchel remains to be seen.