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23rd Aug 2020

Thomas Muller’s subtle genius sees Bayern Munich win sixth Champions League

Bayern Munich scrapped and fought and pressed and harried and finally got their breakthrough thanks to a piece of genius from Thomas Muller

Reuben Pinder

Coman got the goal and Kimmich got the assist, but it was Muller who made the goal happen

For all the talk about this being Neymar’s moment, about Robert Lewandowski’s outrageous goal record, about how PSG might take advantage of Bayern Munich’s high line, about how Alphonso Davies’ pace would be utilised on the break, none of these players were involved in the decisive moment. No, as it turned out, all the preconceived narratives we had cooked up ended up being irrelevant. It was a simple cross to the back post from Joshua Kimmich headed in by Kinglsey Coman that proved the difference between two excellent sides. But it wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Bayern’s eternally unsung hero, Thomas Müller.

The goal began with a typically well weighted pass from Thiago Alcântara to the right wing. Serge Gnabry, unusually quiet on the night, fizzed it inside on the ground, just behind the onrushing Müller. With three bodies around him, Müller could not take the ball forward without being tackled. Kimmich, though, was in space behind him in the channel. Müller saw this, adapted his body shape, and laid the ball off with a deft touch that allowed Kimmich to control the ball and pick out a cross to the back post that led to the goal.

It was just one touch in the build up to an excellent team goal, but a touch the goal doesn’t happen without and is easy to overlook, like so many of the brilliant things Müller does are.

Müller is a player both simultaneously rated and underrated. We know he’s good, but we’re not always sure why. He is not a player for the aesthete, but he is a manager’s dream. His positional intelligence and versatility has seen him earn the nickname ‘Raumdeuter’, which translates to ‘space interpreter’. His goals are often scruffy and he doesn’t possess blistering pace, and yet at the age of 30, here he is, registering 21 assists in a league season and making game changing contributions to a Champions League final.

Bayern were deserved winners, and it is all the more impressive that they have become such an unstoppable machine of terrifyingly quick attacks and intense pressing considering the mess Hansi Flick inherited back in November. They were fourth under Niko Kovac, and looked like surrendering their Bundesliga crown for the first time since 2012. It is hard to believe that was this season, having watched them surge back up the league table and march to European victory, putting eight goals past Barcelona in the process.

When the attention turns to PSG’s post-mortem, it will be all too tempting to write this off as another bottle job. But as always, the truth is more nuanced. Kylian Mbappé squandered a good chance early on, perhaps surprised to have received the ball back from Ander Herrera, who was himself in a better position to shoot. He should also have been given a penalty, when Joshua Kimmich appeared to kick his foot rather than the ball but VAR assistants did not deem the decision to wave play on a mistake. But Bayern also had their chances: Lewandowski hit the post, Coman was taken down by Thimo Kehrer in the box but was not awarded a penalty. It was the most action packed, low scoring final in recent memory.

Neymar’s tears at the full-time whistle told their own story. He is 28 now, and may never get a better chance to lift the trophy for the second time than this. The whole point of his move to PSG was for him to lead a them to European glory as the star of the team. His failure to do so this time will sting for a long time, and will lead to premature conclusions about his ability to perform in big games, despite the historic evidence to the contrary. But ultimately, PSG just weren’t quite as good as Bayern, and two brilliant sides were only separated by one moment of genius.