February 21, 2018 / 9:43 AM / a month ago

Soccer: Ungainly but hugely effective Mueller back to his best

BERLIN (Reuters) - After flirting with the substitutes’ bench under Carlo Ancelotti, Bayern Munich forward Thomas Mueller is back to his ungainly and hugely effective best as Besiktas discovered on Tuesday.

Soccer Football - Champions League Round of 16 First Leg - Bayern Munich vs Besiktas - Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany - February 20, 2018 Bayern Munich's Thomas Muller celebrates scoring their third goal REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski

There was nothing spectacular about either of Mueller’s two goals in Bayern’s 5-0 Champions League win over the Turkish champions, and the first was downright scrappy, but the 28-year-old has never been noted for his elegance.

“The first goal was typical Mueller,” said Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes, who has been credited with Mueller’s revival since returning for a fourth stint at the club in October.

“It’s interesting how players prepare for these sort of games. Thomas takes it to another level, he knows that a special performance is needed in the Champions League.

“Had he not got injured, he would have a lot more goals. He is performing well and he motivates the others. He’s important for our system and not just because of the goals. He’s also important for the vertical game.”

Mueller, joint top-scorer at the 2010 World Cup, does not conform to the footballer’s stereotype.

He stumbles rather than glides past opponents, his ungroomed floppy hair has not changed in years, he has unusually skinny legs and he eschews tattoos. His wife is an amateur dressage rider rather than a model or actress.

A one-club player, Mueller’s name rarely pops up for any of the plethora of awards on the football calendar, but he has an uncanny notion of space and is always in the right place.

In terms of titles, Mueller is one of the sport’s most successful players with one World Cup, one Champions League, one Club World Cup, six Bundesliga and four German Cup titles to his name.

The last two seasons, however, have not been his best.

He failed to get on the scoresheet during Euro 2016 and scored a modest nine goals in all competitions last season - the first time in his career he has failed to reach double figures in a full campaign.

Then, in August, Ancelotti did the unthinkable and dropped him for a match at Werder Bremen.

Predictably, that sparked a huge debate and Mueller himself had a dig.

“I don’t know exactly which qualities the coach wants to see,” he said. “But mine seem not to be 100 percent in demand.”

There was even talk of a transfer.

Ancelotti was fired in September, however, and replaced by Heynckes who has once again brought out the best in the enigmatic forward, as he did back in Bayern’s treble winning season in 2012-13.

“He can score goals out of nothing - like the 1-0,” said Heynckes. “With his speed and reactions, he’s often in the right place and that makes him unique. That’s the real Mueller.”

Writing by Brian Homewood in Bern, editing by Ed Osmond

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