Mario Götze’s gone, but for Borussia Dortmund, Robert Lewandowski’s loss will hurt more

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For a German club that’s become the Bundesliga counterweight to Bayern autonomy, losing Mario Götze carries a particular sting for Borussia Dortmund. Only 20 years old, the attacking midfielder’s promise and present cast him as the brightest star on the German fußball landscape, making his capture particularly precious for Bayern Munich. For a team so readily associated with the German national team, buying what may develop into the country’s biggest star could be a point of great pride. That they sprung it on their current rivals makes the swoop all the more significant.

Götze, however, is replaceable. To a small extent, we saw it on Saturday. While having a full, first choice team would have improved Dortmund’s chances, BVB competed with the world’s best without their injured playmaker. Kevin Großkreutz is no Mario Götze, but if Marco Reus slid into a permanent spot behind that striker, BVB would be fine.

They’ll fine, that is, if they keep Robert Lewandowski, but that’s looking less and less likely by the day. Early spring brought the first reports that the Dortmund striker had agreed terms with Bayern, but through April and May, links to Manchester United (among others) persisted. Reportedly only making £20,000 per week (roughly $1.5 million per year), the 24-year-old  looks set to capitalize on his 36-goal season with a lucrative move, whether it’s to Bayern or some other club that can afford his inevitably heavy wages.

Lewandowski’s loss would be much more damaging than Götze’s, and not because there’s no Großkruetz-esque replacement waiting in the wings. It’s not because his loss will come on top of Götze’s move or Lewandowski might be the better player (he’s probably not). It’s because of how perfect Robert Lewandowski is for Dortmund’s style of play.

This is a bit of a chicken-egg situation. Dortmund haven’t played like this forever, and Lewandowski’s been a huge part of enabling this style. His ability to (a.) play the lone striker, (b.) in a press-heavy 4-2-3-1, (c.) on a team competing for major honors requires a rare skill-set, one that you see in Napoli’s Edinson Cavani and few others. Cavani is more tenacious, is better in the air, and has a physical quality Lewandowski doesn’t possess, but Lewandowski’s superior on the ball and a more dangerous passer, qualities that make him a great fit for a Dortmund. BVB’s style has come to depend heavily on its number nine’s ability to make the Götzes and Marco Reuses of the world more dangerous.

Lewandowski’s what German journalist Raphael Honigstein recent called labeled the best “footballing” forward in the world. Honigstein didn’t necessarily mean the Dortmund forward was the best at his position; more readily, he was describing the Polish international’s proficiency across multiple disciplines. In an evermore 4-2-3-1 world — a world where a forward’s versatility is more valuable than any singular, standout trait — the Lewandowski, Cavani-level talents become even more valuable.

Suffice to say, Dortmund’s not going to go out and get Edinson Cavani. And it’s unlikely Mario Mandzukic will end up at the Westfalenstadion in a Lewandowski swap. BVB could go out and buy another capable striker, like Manchester City’s Edin Dzeko (linked with Dortmund or at least six months), but he only offers part of Lewandowski’s skill-set, as do a slew of other players the former champions could pursue.

Broadly, it seems there are two possible paths. Dortmund could go out and get a workhorse that can press, potentially hold up the ball, and provide some value on set pieces, but such players tend to lack the nous capable of collecting 36 goals in a season. Or, Dortmund could go for a Dzeko-type player who’s more likely to produce goals yet isn’t as good linking play or gliding through the pressing game. Because the type of players that give them the whole Lewandowski, Cavani, Suárez-type package? They require the same wages that are prompting Lewandowski’s move.

Depending on which route Dortmund take, they’ll either have to adapt their style, get more goals from Jakub Blaszczykowski and Großkreutz, or play in a way that doesn’t fit their new personnel, all of which leads to Dortmund 2013-14 not being the Dortmund so many have volunteered to love. While those problems may present themselves with the mere loss of Götze, the change is much more certain if Lewandowski forces a move.

If you’re starting a new team and had to choose between Götze and Lewandowski, you might go with Götze. But if you’re Dortmund and have to choose between the two, you let Götze go.

Unfortunately, it’s inevitable that Dortmund will lose both.

Mascherano still believes Neymar is “the future” of Barcelona

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The Neymar-to-PSG saga has escalated quickly, and signs of the Brazilian’s move to Paris are growing, but one Barcelona player remains confident that his compatriot will stay in Spain ahead of the new La Liga season.

[ MORE: Morata signs five-year contract with Chelsea ]

PSG has shown a willingness over recent days to meet Barca’s worldly $260 million transfer fee for the 25-year-old, while Neymar has reportedly alerted his teammates that he will in fact be heading to the Parc des Princes next month.

Veteran Barcelona midfielder/defender Javier Mascherano is one of the Blaugrana players that hopes Neymar will stick around and help anchor the La Liga giants for years to come despite a possible massive payday in store.

“Obviously he is young and I hope he’s here with Barcelona for many more years,” the Argentina defender said to ESPN.

“He is a really important player for the club. Because of his age, he’s the future of the club and we hope we can keep on counting on him.

“He’s accustomed to the pressure and people talking. There’s always going to be rumours and news around him.

“It’s really difficult to give advice. Firstly, I’m not anyone to be giving advice and secondly, I see him really happy here, really happy. [Barca] are a club that have made it possible for him to perform at his best. But after that, each person has to make their own decisions.”

If Neymar does bolt for Paris the complexion of the MSN-Barca attack changes drastically despite still boasting elite talents Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

[ MORE: Man United drops Man City in Houston “Manchester Derby” ]

Barca has done little in the transfer market this summer, only adding Everton winger Gerard Deulofeu and Nelson Semedo of Benfica. The club continues to pursue Liverpool attacker Philippe Coutinho, however, the Reds recently rejected a bid of $93 million.

‘Nothing is impossible’: Bonucci brings hope to AC Milan

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MILAN (AP) Nothing is impossible. That’s AC Milan’s new unofficial slogan following Leonardo Bonucci’s surprise transfer from defending six-time Serie A champion Juventus.

[ MORE: Neymar reportedly tells Barca teammates he’s off to PSG ]

Presenting fans to Bonucci via Weibo on Friday, Milan CEO Marco Fassone recounted how Italy’s top defender moved to a rival club.

“It started by chance and it seemed impossible but Leo interrupted me right away and said, `Nothing is impossible. When there’s desire to do things you can get them done.”‘

Milan has been on a spending spree following the club’s sale to a Chinese-led consortium for $800 million in April, and Bonucci is the top acquisition, so far.

“Leo doesn’t require introductions,” Fassone said. “It’s an extraordinary reinforcement for us. … He completes a mosaic sought after by (Milan chief sport officer Massimiliano) Mirabelli – a mix of younger players and experienced leaders who will make the road ahead easier.”

Other recent signings by Milan included forward Andre Silva from FC Porto; midfielders Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti (Atalanta), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) and Lucas Biglia (Lazio); and defender Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal).

Bonucci thanked Kessie for letting him wear his preferred No. 19 shirt, and pointed to Milan’s seven European Cups and Champions League titles as a reference point for a club that did not even qualify for continental play the last three years and hasn’t won Serie A since 2011.

“Milan deserves to be among the elite again in Italy and Europe,” Bonucci said. “When you are united you win. The strength has to be that of the squad whereas singular players alone can do nothing. We can get back to the top and that’s what this club deserves.”

Bonucci’s transfer fee reportedly topped the 40 million euro ($45 million) mark, and the center back was signed to a five-year contract worth up to 10 million euros ($11 million) per season, including bonuses – making him the highest-paid player in Italy.

Meanwhile, Juventus is reportedly near to signing prized winger Federico Bernardeschi from Fiorentina for a reported fee of 40 million euros ($45 million). The Gazzetta dello Sport reported Juventus will sign the 23-year-old Bernardeschi to five-year contract worth 4 million euros ($4.6 million) per season.

Vertonghen: “We need to level up” like rest of PL contenders

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Tottenham put up a heck of a title fight in 2016/17 as the club attempted to chase down Premier League champions Chelsea, but Spurs have been inactive this summer as Mauricio Pochettino‘s group gears up for next month.

[ MORE: Striker Morata signs five-year contract with Chelsea ]

The London side finished second in the PL a season ago — a record-high for the club during the modern Premier League Era.

[ VIDEO: History of the North London Derby ]

However, Pochettino and Co. have made no moves in the transfer market this summer, while its competitors — Chelsea, Manchester United, etc. — have all made significant roster additions to bolster their lineups.

Defender Jan Vertonghen says that Spurs must compete with the rest of the PL’s elite in the transfer market if the club is to finally realize its goal of finishing atop England’s top flight.

“The way our rivals are strengthening this season, we need to be aware of that and we need to level up as well,” Vertonghen told ESPN FC.

“I’m not saying with new players, but we need to take our levels up and I think we can. I’m the oldest outfield player in the team and I feel very fit. The younger guys can improve even more. It can definitely be our year and we want it to be our year.

“Luckily we almost kept everyone from this year. Obviously the window is not closed yet but if we can keep these guys, we can do the same thing again. It’ll be a bit harder because we play at Wembley! [The pitch] is a lot bigger but the training pitches have already been adapted.

While Spurs certainly benefit from having one of the strongest young groups of players in England, the club’s lack of spending is a bit concerning, especially after its recent loss of Kyle Walker — who joined Manchester City for a record fee.

Zouma signs new Chelsea contract, is immediately loaned to Stoke City

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Kurt Zouma‘s long-term future is secure at Chelsea, but his short-term future will be away from Stamford Bridge.

The France international centerback signed a new six-year contract with Chelsea and was promptly sent out on a season-long loan to Stoke City. Zouma made just three starts and nine total appearances last season as he came back from a torn ACL suffered in February 2016.

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“It is fantastic Kurt has chosen to commit his future to Chelsea,” Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo said in a statement. “He has shown his talent since joining us three years ago, and has returned from a serious injury with a fantastic attitude.

“Now he has the opportunity to play regularly in the Premier League and we will be monitoring his progress closely while he is at Stoke.”

The move to Stoke will give Zouma a new experience, playing for a mid-table side in the Premier League, and it will be interesting to see where he fits in at centerback, battling with American Geoff Cameron and Englishman Ryan Shawcross.

Even with John Terry leaving the club, Zouma was likely to be second-choice in the back three for Chelsea and if he wants to make France’s squad for the 2018 World Cup, he’ll have to play regularly.