A year after being dumped by Germany head coach Joachim Loew, Thomas Mueller is set to showcase why he is so important for Bayern Munich – and Robert Lewandowski – at Chelsea in the Champions League.
Alongside Erling Braut Haaland, Bayern’s star striker Lewandowski is joint top-scorer in the Champions League with 10 goals going into the last 16, first-leg clash on Tuesday.
The Poland striker is on a career-high 38 goals after 32 games in all competitions and is happiest with Mueller alongside him.
“It’s easier with Thomas next to me, he helps me out a lot,” Lewandowski has said of Mueller.
“We always have one player more in the penalty area when he plays, I have more space and not always two or three opponents against me.”
It’s no coincidence that Lewandowski is enjoying his highest goal tally just when Mueller’s 14 assists in Germany’s top flight also puts him near his personal best.
The 30-year-old is back to his best after significant setbacks for club and country in 2019.
Mueller was told last March he was no longer needed by Germany and found himself repeatedly benched by then Bayern coach Niko Kovac. However, since Hansi Flick took over and restored Mueller to the starting line-up, and he has flourished.
What makes Mueller unique is that he is neither a striker, nor an attacking midfielder, but describes himself as a ‘Raumdeuter’ – an interpreter of space.
“I like to be active in the space in behind the opposition’s midfield,” Mueller has said on his favourite position. “That’s where I can hurt the opponent most. I’m a mix between a striker and a midfielder – I’m a ‘Raumdeuter’.” His success speaks for itself.
Messi gives Barca hope
Lionel Messi has said Barcelona are not playing well enough to win this season’s Champions League but his four goals against Eibar on Saturday were a reminder that with him there will always be hope.
Barca play Napoli in the first leg of the last 16 on Tuesday and will be expected to go through, even if their opponents are on a strong run, having won six out of their last seven matches, including victories over Juventus and Inter Milan.
Yet despite a whirlwind couple of months of political wrangling, remarkably Barcelona approach this tie sitting top of La Liga and with a spring in their step, in large part due to Messi.
While other players might have sulked or crumbled, Messi delivered with another breathtaking performance that underlined his ability to drag this troubled team through even the most turbulent of periods.
Yet if Messi were to win the Champions League this season, it would surely represent one of his most impressive achievements.
But with in-form Napoli fast-approaching and then Madrid to come at the Santiago Bernabeu, time is not on Barcelona’s side. For now, they will look to Messi.