Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich head to Borussia Dortmund on Saturday trailing their hosts at the top of the table by four points. It’s unfamiliar territory for Thomas Müller, but he’s confident his side can set the record straight at the Signal Iduna Park.
bundesliga.com sat down with the self-styled Raumdeuter to get his thoughts on Saturday’s game, Manuel Neuer’s supposed recent travails, the toughest opponent he’s faced, and more…
bundesliga.com: They say the next game is always the most important. How important is your upcoming match against Dortmund, particularly in terms of your league position?
Thomas Müller: “It’s always special playing for Bayern in Dortmund. Dortmund have become Bayern’s main competitors in the last five, six, seven, eight years. Since I’ve been in the team, they’ve always been our main antagonists and have always demanded the most from us. That will of course be the case once again on Saturday. The situation may have been a bit different in recent years. We’ve rarely been behind in terms of points when playing in Dortmund. That’s why it’s very special and an important match for us.”
bundesliga.com: Do you think the current situation increases the pressure on Bayern going into this game?
Müller: “There’s always huge pressure on us, regardless of the situation. Last season in October we were also five points behind and were able to turn things around. That’s something we want to attempt again this year. Of course, Dortmund can afford a slightly worse result than us in this match. But we have a big chance this week to really close the gap in a head-to-head clash before heading off to our national teams.”
bundesliga.com: You haven’t faced any club as often as Dortmund. What does this match mean to you on a personal level?
Müller: “As I’ve already said, they’ve been our main adversary since I started playing for the first team here at Bayern. It’s always a special match between the sides. This time it’s even more special and the whole of Germany will be watching. And even internationally, the match between Bayern and Dortmund – particularly with the current situation in the table – is very important. It is an exciting match for Bundesliga fans across the world – a real highlight.”
bundesliga.com: This is your 10th year at Bayern and you’ve developed from a young goalscorer to a leading figure in the team. How has your personal style changed over the years?
Müller: “That’s difficult to say. Football has changed fundamentally somewhat, of course: the kind of players that were in my early teams and the way football in Germany and also Europe has developed. You have to see all of this in context, of course. It’s difficult for me to talk about myself. Back then, we played more practical football I suppose – a long ball was more of a legitimate tool rather than simply to be used in emergencies. The footballing culture, in terms of how the game is played, has certainly improved in recent years. But of course some elements have decreased so in that sense, there have been changes. The speed of the game has increased and the one-on-one players are becoming increasingly important. That’s how I would sum it up.”
bundesliga.com: You’re currently covering the most ground of any Bayern player (7.5 miles per game) and winning half of your tackles (a career best). Has your focus changed somewhat?
Müller: “Ultimately, if you feel more responsible for the team as a whole then you adjust your own style to reflect that. Perhaps not being so focused on getting the last goal if it’s simply a question of securing a result. You don’t simply run around desperately trying to score the next goal. Instead, you feel responsible for making sure you get the right result. I see myself as a midfielder and so there are a lot of tackles to be won in that area. At the beginning of my career, these types of jobs were carried out by other players and I had a bit more freedom to go forward. In that sense, perhaps it’s changed somewhat. But other than that, I try to bring the same attributes to my game. But of course there will always be periods where you score lots of goals and periods where you do not score so many.”
bundesliga.com: Like you, your teammates Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben are part of Bayern history. What are their strengths both on and off the pitch?
Müller: “The two of them have incredible ambition – be it wanting to win every single training match or out on the pitch in games. They are, of course, both in their mid-30s now but are still hugely important for Bayern and for us as a team. They know the club; they know the people here. Frank is the kind of person who likes to get the players worked up with his jokes. He’s one of the people that likes to lift the mood. I really enjoy playing with them both. Looking back, the two of them have been hugely important also in my own development. They were both world class teammates.”
bundesliga.com: 10 years in the Bundesliga. Who has been your toughest opponent?
Müller: “That’s difficult to say because I’m actually the kind of player who tries to escape my marker from behind. Then it doesn’t matter how good they are at tackling because they can’t get to the ball once you’re away. So, I would struggle to name my toughest opponent.”
bundesliga.com: There's a huge Bayern fan base in China and lots of people who will be following the match against Dortmund very closely. What will Bayern have to do in order to win on Saturday?
Müller: “First of all, you have to say that Dortmund have had good results recently and are playing refreshing football with lots of goals. They’re not 100 per cent secure at the back but they’re scoring a lot of goals. We’ll have to be prepared for that, of course. We’re really looking forward to the match even though there’s room for improvement in our game going forward. There’s no doubting the work ethic and the harmony in the team at the moment. There’s a slightly bizarre statistic at the moment concerning Neuer. Namely, that we’re not allowing our opponents many shots at all but the shots they have end up in the back of the net. That means our current results aren’t always a fair reflection of the match. This should not hinder us in any way in the lead-up to the Dortmund match. We want to keep them out and if teams like Dortmund play more attacking football, then we want to make use of the extra space. I’ve seen a few bits of content, on the plane or wherever, that show how highly the Bundesliga and Der Klassiker between Bayern and Dortmund is regarded in Asia and in China. We want to put on a good show for our Asian fans and hopefully it’ll be an enthralling match with the right result for us at the end.”
bundesliga.com: The Chinese Bayern fans are somewhat concerned at the moment. What words of encouragement can you offer them?
Müller: “As I said, the team is united. We get on very well. It is always the case – and this is important for us to explain to our Chinese fans – that if you win the German title six years in a row, that our current struggles are magnified and reported across the whole world. It’s rarely about what’s happening on the pitch, but rather attempts to stoke the fire. It’s very rarely to do with what is happening on the pitch. That is simply part of the business, part of football. So to our Chinese fans, we can assure you we are fighting hard, will continue to give absolutely everything and are confident that we can beat Dortmund in their own stadium.”