Classic Thomas Muller and a classic Bayern Munich revival in the Champions League

Before the game, one could sense a bit of optimism but no small sense of morbid suspense among the crowd, too. Would that be it? The last game for Thomas Tuchel? The last game for this Bayern Munich team? The last game of a season that would have effectively been over with three months of football still to be played?

Bayern were last out of the running in all competitions this early in a campaign in the 1991-92 season, an annus horribilis that came with three different managers, a relegation battle and a 10th-placed finish that ushered in big changes at boardroom level. Failure to progress against Lazio might well have set off similar convulsions.

But as the German saying goes, “totgesagte leben langer” — the condemned live longer.

Bayern and Tuchel, who believes he broke a toe by kicking a door during an impassioned pre-match speech, showed they were were not dead yet and fittingly, the immortal Thomas Muller took centre stage in this mini-resurrection.

While Harry Kane’s brace stole the headlines, the 34-year-old was the inspiration of the comeback. His clever run and header was the prelude to Kane’s vital opener and he was at hand again just before the break to nod in a Matthijs De Ligt shot-cum-cross to double the lead, and settle the home team’s nerves.

Harry Kane (right) celebrates putting Bayern 3-0 up against Lazio (Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

The paradox at the heart of Muller’s game is that the self-styled Raumdeuter (space interpreter) needs plenty of order and control around him if his maverick ideas are to come off.

“For my game, structure is super-important,” he told The Athletic in 2020. “It has to be clockwork. I see myself as a cog. I can throw my qualities and playing characteristics into the mix, and I can help the team improve that way. I will never be a player who picks up the ball outside his own box and goes past three men… my game becomes very good when Bayern are able to spend a lot of time in the final third in a controlled manner.”



‘It was a bit Wild West’ – Muller on life after Pep and Bayern’s resurgence

Muller has looked lost amid some of Bayern’s chaotic performances this season but it was no coincidence that he shone on Tuesday night: Bayern’s steady dominance in the opposition half allowed him to.

Only he would have thought to run beyond the second post into a dead space near the touchline and the unorthodox ploy proved the breakthrough because Raphael Guerreiro had anticipated Muller’s header backwards and took up the right position to benefit. The Portuguese’s mishit shot was turned in by Kane.

“It was a normal Thomas Muller run,” Muller said later. “But it worked because we had enough men in the box. Whether it needed a left-back (in Guerreiro) to be there was debatable because we have other players to do that. But overall, we were well organised and we kept our shape today.”

Lazio were amenable opponents, Muller admitted. “They can make things awkward by defending deep but they don’t really hurt you,” he said. But Bayern’s composure on this crucial night nevertheless came as a big relief after a first half against SC Freiburg on Friday night that Tuchel had scathingly described as “harakiri” (ritualistic suicide) and their frequently shambolic outings throughout the campaign.

It was interesting to hear the Germany international insist that Bayern hadn’t been as bad as some have suggested, however.

“We’re not a total disaster. We don’t play rubbish football all the time,” he said with a smile. “Even against Freiburg, we had some decent spells. The problem is that we haven’t been consistent enough in matches.”

Thomas Tuchel, Bayern Munich

Tuchel believes he broke his toe by kicking a door during his pre-match speech (Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

With that in mind, Bayern were reluctant to read too much into this regulation win.“We need to enjoy the moment and take small steps forward,” said board member for sport Max Eberl.

The next couple of matches in the league, against Mainz and Darmstadt, need to deliver more evidence that confidence and cutting edge have truly taken hold in their game, along with better organisation before Bavarian braggadocio will return.

Just like Muller, who scored his 238th goal in his 696th competitive game for the club, this Bayern side know they aren’t quite at elite levels anymore but they’re not yet completely gone either.

 (Top photo: Stefan Matzke – sampics/Corbis via Getty Images)

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