When we think of the Raumdeuter role, of course, one player always springs to mind: Thomas Muller, the man responsible for the term’s inception and without question, the game’s greatest proponent of the highly-specialised role.
Muller, who coined the term in 2011 when asked to define his unique attacking role for Bayern Munich, has almost become synonymous with his own interpretation, and the term has since gained widespread popularity in the game.
The word essentially translates to “space investigator”, and is best used to define the German’s effective role when exploiting the half space. A Raumdeuter’s main function is to drift infield and find pockets of space in which to thrive.
It would be difficult to bracket certain players within the Raumdeuter role, as it is such a specialised concept, but there are certainly parallels with some modern forwards, and using real-life data, we’ve had a look at who some of those may be.
What is a Raumdeuter?
As touched upon, a Raumdeuter is essentially a player who locates dangerous areas of the pitch and uses unoccupied space to create confusion among opposition backlines. What makes Muller’s role different, to say, a traditional inside forward is that he will often look to cut infield and create space before the ball has found his path, not the other way around.
In that sense a Raumdeuter is something of a winger-cum-poacher, in that his main job is to identify menacing areas of the pitch first, and then let his football do the talking.
Thomas Muller has now provided 18 league assists this season, at least five more than any other player in Europe's top five leagues.
He just keeps on giving. pic.twitter.com/N9BegPVHVz
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 8, 2021
And it’s this obsession with space that truly defines the role and makes it so unique, difficult to master and highly effective when put into practise. Louis van Gaal, the Bayern Munich manager during Muller’s early years in the Bundesliga, was crucial in the German’s development as a Raumdeuter.
Indeed Van Gaal’s own philosophy is deeply wedded to the exploitation of space, which meshed perfectly with Muller’s unconventional, almost esoteric style.
A Raumdeuter, as defined by Football Manager, “Is difficult for defenders to pick up as he will often drift from his assigned position looking for any opportunity to exploit,” while the main attributes include the ‘Mental’ aspects of a player’s game, including ‘Anticipation’ and ‘Off The Ball’.
Now that you know the role and how it functions, let’s look at some of the best players who can operate there.
Of course, there is no better place to start than with Muller himself. The Germany international is a goalscoring fanatic, a forward who reads the game better than most and has a unique ability to be in the right place at the right time.
His own rise first came under Van Gaal, as touched upon, and it’s clear to see why he became such a unique goalscoring threat under the Dutch coach.
Gerard van der Lem, a former assistant of Van Gaal, once said of the ex-Ajax manager’s tactical blueprint: “Where is the most space? Where is the player who has the most time? That is where we have to play the ball. Every player had to understand the geometry of the whole pitch.”
And few understand the “geometry” of the pitch more than Muller.
If we look at Muller’s average positions and minutes played in the Bundesliga this season alongside his heat map, you can see just how fluid the German’s role is under Hansi Flick, drifting across the frontline, often with unchartable movement.
His average position this term has overwhelmingly been in the central attacking area (2207 minutes played), and yet, his heat map shows he rarely occupies the No. 10 space, instead taking up positions almost everywhere in the final third, particularly out wide.
If we go back to Football Manager’s interpretation of “it being difficult for defenders to pick up a Raumdeuter, as he will often drift from his assigned position”, then the above visual underpins the point to a T, showing that Muller is not a player shackled to a single point, but instead, he orchestrates purposeful runs to throw defenders off scent, opening up space for his teammates and causing confusion among backlines.
What formation to use on Football Manager?
If we want to replicate his role on Football Manager it would be wise to set up a fairly tight system. As a Raumdeuter is not overly concerned with defensive matters, and will often “drift” in and out of matches, it’s best to have a solid foundation behind him. He will also be producing a large portion of the goals, so it would be advised to avoid overloading the frontline.
A 4-3-3 wide with a defensive midfielder provides ample protection further back and ensures your side has a solid base in which to build on. With a disciplined defensive and midfield set-up in place, the forward-thinking Raumdeuter will have carte blanche to pull out of position and instigate havoc.
Overlapping wing-backs are also a necessity as the Raumdeuter will be ‘drifting’ from his assigned position out wide, so it’s best to find an attacking full-back who can push up and occupy the space on the flank conceded by the unconventional forward.
And of course, with Muller in the side there is simply no other player suited to the role, with the German boasting a rating of 20 for ‘Off The Ball’, 19 for ‘Anticipation’ and 15 for ‘Finishing’.
Moving on to someone who Muller would probably consider a fellow Raumdeuter, Dele Alli is a player who initially excelled in the role and made it his own under Mauricio Pochettino, garnering a reputation as a free-scoring midfielder who always seemed to find space in menacing positions.
In the 2016/17 season Alli famously notched 18 Premier League goals and looked destined to set the world alight. Looking a little closer, 17 of those 18 strikes came inside the box, illustrating Alli’s knack for finding dangerous positions in condensed spaces, similar to that of Muller.
While we tend to remember the Puskas-worthy finishes of Alli like his swizel-volley vs Crystal Palace, we often forget just how much of a fox-in-the-box he really was when at his peak. It will also come as no surprise that Harry Kane also netted 29 goals in that season and claimed his second Golden Boot (recently adding his third this season). The England international worked expertly in tandem with Alli, profiting from the space he created.
The following campaign Alli netted a more humble nine league goals as Spurs finished third, but again only one of those finishes came from outside the box, while Kane also had a field day, netting 30 goals as he formed an almost telepathic understanding with the midfielder.
And we can again see from Alli’s heat map versus his average positions map in that 2017/18 season, that Alli rarely stuck to his assigned position (central attacking midfield with 1963 minutes played), instead drifting wide and into the half space, looking to create gaps, find openings and free Kane.
The result was a devastating combo that ripped through teams and ensured scoring was never an issue for Pochettino’s side. Alli may be out of favour now at Spurs, but on Football Manager he remains a favourable choice for the Raumdeuter role and has all the desired traits to excel.
With ‘Finishing’ at 15, ‘Technique’ at 16 and ‘Off The Ball’ at 14, Alli still boasts the attributes to rediscover his scoring form. Crucially as well, he has ‘Composure’ at 16, the importance of which cannot be understated. Simply put, when he gets into dangerous areas, he won’t panic, usually caressing the ball home with impressive self-assurance.
Moving on to Pablo Fornals, a player who doesn’t exactly scream goalscoring midfielder as you would expect of a Raumdeuter in Muller’s mould, and yet he is another player whose appreciation of space goes beyond his technical attributes.
For a while West Ham fans were scratching their heads as to what Fornals actually brought to the table. Indeed the Spaniard doesn’t appear to have a standout, discernible trait; He doesn’t possess the slick dribbling quality of Said Benrahma, the scoring prowess of Jesse Lingard, or the pace and penetration of Jarrod Bowen, and yet he is arguably the central magnet for West Ham’s play.
Pablo Fornals in the first half for West Ham vs. Southampton:
◉ Most shots (4)
◉ Most shots on target (3)
◉ Most tackles (3)
◉ Most chances created (2)
And he’s scored the most goals. ⚽️⚽️ pic.twitter.com/CFwdYgj2RI
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 23, 2021
If we go back to the club’s 2-1 loss to Liverpool back in October (in which Fornals scored), this game perfectly demonstrated the Spaniard’s unique role for the Hammers and why the versatile midfielder is so key to David Moyes’ set-up, which at that stage was a 3-4-2-1, or 5-4-1 when defending.
Fornals and Bowen were deployed on the flanks but their roles contrasted greatly. From the game’s heat map of both players you can see Bowen – in red – making the runs you would expect of a traditional winger, while Fornals – the cyan heat map – deviated from that script and instead cut inside with intelligent positional play.
It may be a slightly skewed interpretation of the Raumdeuter role as Fornals is not an out-and-out goalscorer, but he is a player who gets into dangerous scoring positions, with his expected goals (xG) outranking his actual output in the league this season, while he has also hit the woodwork four times.
So, it’s not necessarily a case that Fornals is not scoring at the rate expected of a Raumdeuter, he just simply isn’t taking the chances that fall his way.
And while he may not have the stellar ‘Off The Ball’ ability or scoring prowess of Muller, he does boast some key attributes to thrive as a Raumdeuter on Football Manager, with an excellent ‘First Touch’, brilliant ‘Technique’ and solid ‘Anticipation’.
Now onto Roberto Firmino, a man often dubbed the selfless striker in Liverpool’s system, but someone who can certainly be viewed as a Raumdeuter in terms of his positional play. The Brazilian is another who drifts in and out of games and can often go under the radar, but he is arguably the heartbeat of Jurgen Klopp’s attacking trident.
You can see from Firmino’s heat map in the Premier League this season that he rarely inhabits a central position, instead drifting deep and into the half space, either to link play with Liverpool’s midfielders, or to drag opposition defenders out of position for Mane and Salah to get in behind.
From his passes-received-and-movement map here you can also see just how much higher Salah and Mane occupy the turf to Firmino, while the Brazilian’s average movement – as shown by the red line – is predominantly horizontal and even dropping further back.
So, while Firmino can be seen more as a false 9 given his central role, he still remains a natural scoring threat like that of a Raumdeuter. Remember this is a player who scored 27 goals in 2017/18 and 16 goals as Liverpool lifted the Champions League the following campaign.
On Football Manager he can certainly play the role with distinction and boasts the required technical attributes to shine, with his anticipation, off the ball and composure all top notch.