Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Is Danny Wellbeck the English Thomas Muller?

After his two very different finishes at the weekend can we now start to hope that Wellbeck might start emulating the Bayern man? 

That's meant as a compliment by the way. And if you don't know that you've not been watching Thomas Muller often enough. Quietly and without fanfare he's become one of the most important players at the best club in Europe.  If Wellbeck wants an example to follow he could do worse than look at Thomas.  

There's enough similarities in their games to start comparing the two. Both of them have come up through the youth systems of the dominant clubs in their countries. Both represented their countries at an early age and have become key figures. And they both have a an athletic skinny frame with spindly limbs together with the same kind of uniform technical excellence. They're both players geared towards the current ubiquitous 4-2-3-1, able at a push to play any position in the front four (often at club level to Wellbeck's detriment, his engine and diligence in tracking back leaving him unable to be positioned further forward in big games). They both have the ability to fill many positions but never be defined by one, the same sort of not quite winger/not quite striker/ not quite number 10/inside right. They're both tailor made for football as a game of sprints, a never ending pull and push of movement as they race to either cover for or join in with a counter attack.  

 The nature of Wellbeck's goals on Saturday kick started the comparison. Both were ones that Muller would have found himself tucking away. The first, a close range tap in after Valencia had squared it owed much to the sense of positioning and intelligent forward movement that Muller has always seemed to naturally possess. The second, an improvised chip over the on rushing keeper was sublime in its creativity and execution. Wellbeck has history with this. Even though he's never been prolific the goals he has scored have been from finishes to savour. His back-heeled goal against Sweden in the European Championship was so good he had seasoned observers wondering if he'd meant it. The ability to fashion a finish when none looks likely is something he shares with Muller, who's goal when rounding the keeper from an impossible angle against Hanburg was one of the goals of the last Bundesliga season. 

So if they're so similar why are their records so different? Why did Wellbeck famously score 1 Premier League goal in 38 appearances last season while Muller scored 25?  

The key difference in them is what makes Muller already a great player. It takes a while to appreciate just how good he is at finding space. In an increasingly athletic sport with teams focussed on playing between the lines and always pressing space has become the one premium that teams can't do without. Muller is the best in the world at finding it. Without the ball he's peerless. He himself described his role as an interpreter of space and came up with the word Raumdeuter or space investigator to describe it. 

With this Thomas has made himself the man for the big occasion. Time and time again last season Muller scored or created goals when his side needed him. In the first leg of the Champions League semi against Barca it was Muller's two goals that established Bayern's dominance (he did this in what if any would be is his favoured position, roaming behind the main striker filling in for the injured Toni Kroos). He has managed to find a way to assert himself in games where Wellbeck so far has not. Whether this too can be learned is another issue.

Wellbeck's came at this season from a standing start, focussing on getting forward more and already reaping the benefits. He has everything he needs to be successful there. Whether he can ever copy Muller's ability to interpret space is something that might be beyond. England and Man Utd should hope not. 


  1. Danny Welbeck is not 'technically excellent'

  2. Excellent technically then? Very rarely seems to put a foot wrong. Also seems to more often than not pick the right pass.

  3. Nice article, but Müller scored "only" 13 goals in the Bundesliga last season, not 25 (and had 13 assists).