Thomas Müller has long been a pivotal figure for Germany but after another poor display, should coach Joachim Löw have followed Dider Deschamps’ treatment of Antoine Griezmann early in the Euros and dropped his star man?
As Antoine Griezmann, France’s new darling, stabbed home his second goal of Thursday’s semifinal, it was easy to forget that just three weeks earlier he’d been benched for France’s second group game against Albania. The pacy attacking midfielder was among a number of French players who failed to set the tournament opener against Romania alight and paid the price.
A fortnight before that, the Atletico Madrid man had missed a penalty in his side’s second Champions League defeat to city rivals Real Madrid in three years.
Just after the hour mark in his country’s second group game against Albania game he was called off the bench as France struggled to break down their modest opponents. As talented as he is, Griezmann could’ve been forgiven for lacking confidence and adding to the general French malaise but instead, perhaps startled and motivated by the loss of his starting spot in a home tournament, he broke the deadlock in the dying moments.
From that point on, he didn’t look back, scoring five goals in France’s three knockout games and all-but guaranteeing both the golden boot and the player of the tournament gong.
Which brings us to Thomas Müller, second in both awards in World Cup 2014. The man who opened the scoring in Germany’s seismic 7-1 win over Brazil in the semifinal two years ago has looked a shadow of his usual awkward but clinical self in France. He failed to provide a decisive moment as he led the line in a last four clash where Germany put on a demonstration of what Arsene Wenger once called “sterile domination” until the final moments.
The Bayern Munich man’s class is not in question but perhaps he would’ve benefitted – both physically and mentally – from the same treatment Griezmann received.
"You just come up for air, and you get pushed under the water immediately," Müller said in the lead up to the game, lamenting the lack of time between games for elite level players. Perhaps this was a warning sign, perhaps even a red flag, from a man who has played a lot of football. Müller played 49 times for Bayern this season, featured in 9 of Germany’s 10 qualifying games and has played the entirety of each of Germany’s six games in France.
Of course, dropping Müller after the injury to Mario Gomez in the quarterfinal would’ve been an incredibly bold move from Löw, who had a serious lack of strikers in his squad, but the signs of poor form have been there for a while now. Despite scoring 32 goals for Bayern this term, Müller has only scored once in his last 13 games for club and country.
Of course, Germany’s ‘raumdeuter’ has more to his game than goals – his defensive work has been crucial in Germany defending from the front and he's created plenty of chances over the tournament – but without goals, his somewhat ungainly style isn’t always easy to appreciate to the neutral eye.
For Griezmann, the win – and particularly his converted penalty - may have laid some ghosts to rest. "I wanted to take a penalty again in an important moment and I'm happy I did, and happy I scored," he said after France’s win.
At 26, Müller has plenty of time to re-discover his form – and crucially his scoring touch - but perhaps Löw, and Müller's new club boss Carlo Ancelotti, would be well advised to take a leaf out of Deschamps’ book and leave Müller out when he’s struggling for form.