Carlo Ancelotti insists he is not worried about the form of Bayern Munich attacker Thomas Muller. Muller has scored only four goals in all competitions this season and the 27-year-old also failed to score at Euro 2016 for Germany.
But Ancelotti hailed Muller’s tactical awareness and use of space, explaining he believes Muller’s mental strength will get him through his poor run of form.
“I have no concerns whatsoever,” Ancelotti told ESPN. “Mentally, he’s very strong. He’s a winner, he never gets depressed, he’s hugely positive and confident in what he does. And he can laugh at himself too.
“He’s atypical because he’s a great forward with a totally unorthodox skill set. We expect great forwards to be outstanding in terms of athleticism, technique or creativity. Those aren’t his strengths, instead his strength is tactical.
“He reads the game; he has an ability to fill the right space at the right time. You don’t associate that kind of tactical intelligence and awareness with attacking players, certainly not at this level. Sometimes you’ll see it in defenders and midfielders. But for an attacking player it’s hugely rare.
“When a coach notices a youngster with that tactical intelligence he generally moves him into the back line or midfield, because that’s where tactical understanding matters more. With Muller I guess that never happened. He played up front and he stayed up front.”
Ancelotti has used Muller in a wide range of roles, including as a wide forward, and the Italian said the Germany international’s versatility is key.
“I know it’s a cliche, but he really can play anywhere,” Ancelotti said. “Muller will just do it in his own way and reinvent the position. It’s funny, they criticised me in Germany because I played him out wide. The media said, ‘Oh, but he’s not a winger!’
“Gee, really? I’m not stupid. I can see that he’s not going to play wide in the way that Arjen Robben or Douglas Costa play wide. And I’m not going to ask him to try to imitate Robben or Costa.
“What he can do is use his intelligence to find the right positions on the pitch at the right time, starting from out wide. And that creates mismatches and helps the team.”
Speculation regarding Philipp Lahm’s future has made headlines throughout the season, but Ancelotti believes the Bayern captain still has an important role to play for his side.
“Lahm is not on the decline. Absolutely not,” Ancelotti said. “I think what happens when players get older is the sheer number of games they have to play can create problems in terms of consistency.
“And so maybe instead of quantity you emphasise quality. Maybe he only plays in certain games, the bigger ones, where he can be a difference maker. Or maybe in certain games he plays midfield rather than out wide, in a role that requires a different kind of stamina and athleticism. But I have no doubt that he can keep playing at a very high level for a long time.”