Find out how you can use our heat map, distance and sprint metrics to play like Bayern Munich and Germany star Thomas Muller…
Few players are able to transcend the game to the point where they literally define their own position, but for Thomas Muller, the term ‘raumdeuter’ couldn’t have rolled off the tongue anymore casually if he tried. Translated as ’space interpreter’, the forward unwittingly added the latest phrase to a growing dictionary of football jargon when he was asked how he’d describe his position during an interview in 2011.
Forward? Nein. Midfielder? Falsch. Winger? Unkorrekt. Watching Muller’s gangly frame amble around the Allianz Arena will leave you wondering if you would be just as effective in his place. But of course, you wouldn’t. Nobody is. It’s exactly that which makes him football’s loveable paradox.
Unique in character alike, Muller’s few small steps into space have been a giant leap for how we think about the game. Critics argue that being in the right place at the right time is a matter of luck, but it’s a skill the German has built a successful career on – one that includes a World Cup title, six Bundesliga championships and a fifth-placed Ballon D’or ranking. He himself has admitted he makes technical errors, leaves a lot to be desired for physically and isn’t a dribbler, yet Muller’s importance to Bayern Munich since graduating from Säbener Strasses’ youth academy all those years ago is living proof to never judge a book by it’s cover.
But how does one occupy space? Few players are born with the sixth sense Muller has, but watching where he places himself during transitions can hold the key to imitating his style.
The 28-year-old’s biggest asset is his ability to stay two steps ahead of play at all times. It’s a rare way to look at the game, but it means he knows the exact position to be when a loose ball requires a poke home or an unattractive bundle into the back of the net. Popping up in the strangest of places he leaves defenders torn between staying touch tight or holding their positions.
Trying to shackle players like Muller with overbearing tactics only stifles their creativity, so freedom to roam will be required if your going to be a raumdeuter. It’s hard to say what your heat map should look like as iunpredictability is down to how your opposition setup, but it shouldn’t show a blur of colour in just one part of the pitch, i.e the right wing. While you might be getting some joy out of a particular flank, it won’t be long before your opposition wise up to where you’re positioning yourself and quickly shut you down. Follow your instinct and occupy areas left vacant.
With a spindly frame that would be suited to long-distance running, it’s little surprise Muller covers an impressive amount of ground at the Allianz Arena.
The attacker is a bundle of energy on the pitch and often covers every blade of grass as he searches for freedom from touch-tight defenders, while it’s not only during offensive transitions that Muller puts the effort in; he’ll track, harass and work to ensure his team gets back in possession.
The German creates his own space with constant movement and doesn’t neglect his defensive duties when called upon. You’ll need a natural fitness to fulfil the role of a raumdeuter, so try and work your way up slowly to around the 10k mark during each game. Slow progression is key, otherwise you risk increasing the chances of an injury.
Translated as a nose for the goal, ‘Torriecher’ is a German phrase seemingly tailormade for Muller. However, anticipation is just half the battle.
The arrival into the box is paramount to the German’s style of ghosting into dangerous positions unmarked, and relies heavily on both timing and the sudden burst of pace to escape an unsuspecting defender to connect with a cross, deflection and flash across goal.
Too late and you’ll be stretching for a cross and risk missing the ball, while jumping the gun will leave you static, easy to mark and having to adjust your body to get the necessary touch. Pay attention to your top speed in a game and try to apply it at the right moment before a ball lands in a dangerous position. Keep an eye on the first few seconds of your sprint, as it’s your acceleration that gets you that all-important half a yard.