Bayern bank on Muller drive

Robert Lewandowski (left) has scored 38 goals in all competitions for Bayern Munich this season and many of those have been with the help of Thomas Muller, who has 14 assists. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Robert Lewandowski (left) has scored 38 goals in all competitions for Bayern Munich this season and many of those have been with the help of Thomas Muller, who has 14 assists. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

German ace could be key to unlocking Blues defence and unleash deadly Lewandowski

LONDON • A year after being dumped by Germany coach Joachim Low, Thomas Muller is set to showcase why he is so important for Bayern Munich, and Robert Lewandowski, when they travel to face Chelsea in the Champions League today.

Alongside Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Braut Haaland, Lewandowski is the joint top-scorer in this season's Champions League with 10 goals going into the first leg of their last 16 tie.

A big part of his success - he has a career-high 38 strikes from 32 games in all competitions - can be put down to Muller playing in a supporting role this season.

It is little coincidence that Lewandowski is enjoying his best goal tally when Muller's 14 assists in the Bundesliga is also his joint-highest in his past six seasons.

The Poland striker said: "It's easier with Thomas next to me, he helps me out a lot.

"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."

The 30-year-old Muller appears to be back to his best after significant setbacks for club and country last term.

Alongside fellow 2014 World Cup winners Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng, he was told last March he was no longer needed by Die Mannschaft as Low rebuilt his squad following the 2018 World Cup debacle.

Then last autumn, the midfielder found himself repeatedly benched by Bayern to make room for loan signing Philippe Coutinho.

When Niko Kovac was sacked in November, caretaker coach Hansi Flick restored him to the starting line-up, often at the expense of his Brazilian teammate, and Muller has since flourished with more playing time.

While he has just one assist in Europe this campaign, the German champions will be counting on him to supply the ammunition for Lewandowski at Stamford Bridge.

Muller is, however, not the only one needing a fine performance in London to remind critics of his abilities.

The future of Flick also rests on progression to the quarter-finals of the Champions League and beyond.

CLEARING THE WAY

It's easier with Thomas next to me... 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.

ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI, Bayern Munich striker, on playing with Thomas Muller.

The former Germany assistant coach's contract runs out at the end of the season, with Bayern officially announcing they will not talk about the option of an extension before May as Paris Saint-Germain coach Thomas Tuchel continues to be linked with the Bavarian giants.

While the club's former coaches, Jupp Heynckes and Ottmar Hitzfeld, have backed Flick to continue in the job, he knows that only success in Europe will do as domestic silverware may not be enough to please the board.

The five-time winners have not lifted Europe's premier club trophy since 2013.

Referencing last term's Champions League last-16 exit to winners Liverpool - they bowed out 3-1 on aggregate, prompting plenty of soul-searching - Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge warned: "This shouldn't happen again.

"Flick hasn't been under greater pressure than now. He needs a courageous performance to secure his job, he needs guts."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2020, with the headline 'Bayern bank on Muller drive'. Print Edition | Subscribe