Rather like his club, Thomas Müller has found life tough since the summer but the Germany midfielder insists FC Bayern München can still "go a long way" in the UEFA Champions League.
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Much like his club side, Thomas Müller has experienced a chastening few months since the summer. A revelation at the FIFA World Cup, the Germany midfielder has been part of a FC Bayern München team struggling for consistency. Yet he is backing himself and the German champions to turn their season around and begin challenging for titles once again.
Müller plundered 13 goals as Bayern clinched the Bundesliga crown last term, and before his breakthrough campaign was over they had also added the German Cup and finished runners-up in the UEFA Champions League. The 21-year-old then scooped the Golden Boot and Best Young Player award at the World Cup, but the story since then has been of momentum stalled.
Beaten 2-0 at FC Schalke 04 on Saturday, Bayern now lie 17 points shy of Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund; Müller's goal against Eintracht Frankfurt on 27 November was his first league strike in two months. "It had been eight games without a goal and I must say things were not ideal for me," said the Bayern youth product, who registered five times in South Africa but has hit just three goals in 15 league outings since then.
"We're in a difficult period; things haven't been going too well, and that's true for me personally as well. I just tried to stay calm and didn't look at things too dramatically. It's normal that things don't always go as they did during the World Cup. You find yourself back to your normal life and you can experience a loss of form, especially young players like me. But I always give my best and don't let myself get dragged down by critics."
Domestic woes notwithstanding, he and his colleagues need not look too far for positives, and they go into Wednesday's concluding game of Group E against FC Basel 1893 safe in the knowledge they have been assured a UEFA Champions League last-16 place since Matchday 4.
Indeed, they were arguably in even hotter waters this time last year. Seventh in the Bundesliga at the start of December 2009, they needed victory in their final group assignment at Juventus to keep their European adventure alive. "The situation is not as bad as the media or newspapers are saying," explained Müller.
"We haven't been playing badly; it's just that the results haven't come. We need to be more consistent and score some goals." With two of his own in this year's UEFA Champions League, he is confident Bayern possess the mental steel required for another run through the knockout phase. Last season they saw off ACF Fiorentina, Manchester United FC and Olympique Lyonnais en route to their final loss to FC Internazionale Milano.
"We hope we can go a long way in the competition again," he said. "Last season we had a critical moment in Florence and in Manchester we were 3-0 down, but we were very strong mentally. This season we've been mentally very solid as well, but once you get to the quarter-finals or semi-finals of the Champions League, it's all down to details because all the teams are very strong and you just need a bit of luck."
Retaining some of the qualities that fired their challenge last term must be due in part to continuity at the helm, and Müller praised coach Louis van Gaal for his influence on the side. "He has his own philosophy and not every coach has such a clear approach," said the player. "He's taught me a lot of things, in personal talks as well, and he's helped me improve my game. As a young player, you have to be very grateful for his advice."
Van Gaal's faith in Müller has been key to the latter's rise, and the youngster admitted to still feeling amazed at how quickly his career has taken off. "The short time in which everything has happened has been really extreme," he said. "My goal was always to become a professional player and then to be a professional at Bayern, because I recognised that was possible. But I never imagine it would happen so fast and that I'd become an international and play in a Champions League final. I'm very happy it's all turned out the way it has."