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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.

Bremen beats Wolfsburg to leave Bundesliga relegation zone

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10:  Serge Gnabry of Germany reacts during the Men's First Round Football Group C match between Germany and Fiji at Mineirao Stadium on August 10, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
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WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) — Midfielder Serge Gnabry scored twice as Werder Bremen moved away from the Bundesliga’s relegation zone with a 2-1 win at fellow struggler Wolfsburg on Friday.

Bremen and Wolfsburg are level on points and two above Hamburger SV, which is in 18th place and in the relegation zone.

It was a fifth defeat in six games for Wolfsburg coach Valerien Ismael, who won the league and cup double as a player with Bremen in 2004.

Gnabry fired the visitors ahead with a deflected shot in the 10th minute and made it 2-0 eight minutes later, controlling the ball with his chest before prodding home on the volley.

Striker Borja Mayoral, who is on loan from Real Madrid, scored with his chest following a Wolfsburg corner as Wolfsburg hit back moments later.

Midfielder Daniel Didavi struck the post with a free kick as Wolfsburg kept pushing for an equalizer.

Mancini reportedly not interested in Leicester City, De Boer says no

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 20:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Roberto Mancini looks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 20, 2016 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.

Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”

However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.

That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.

“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”

Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.

Win over Las Palmas again has La Real on edge of CL spot

GETAFE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11:  Xavi Prieto of Real Sociedad in action during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium on December 11, 2015 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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All it took was one mistake. Real Sociedad’s Xabi Prieto capitalized, and has La Real once again on the verge of next year’s Champions League.

La Real finished 7th in 2013/14, and 9th in 2015/16, and this year, they’re closer than ever. Preito’s goal on the mistake by Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas gave Real Sociedad the 1-0 road win and has them just a point off a Champions League place.

[ MORE: Antonio Conte pulling from experience to keep Chelsea on top ]

That could be even closer next week, as fourth-placed Atletico Madrid has to welcome Barcelona to the Calderon tomorrow, leaving the door open for La Real to make another move next weekend.

The goal down the stretch is not just to win the games they should, but make the teams above them work. La Real has won seven of their last ten matches, but the three losses came to Real Madrid, Villareal, and Sevilla, all teams fighting at the top of the table. They still have chances down the stretch, with matches against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Eibar coming up, with the latter on the docket next weekend.

Conte pulling from prior experience as title race pushes on

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea at Molineux on February 18, 2017 in Wolverhampton, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte has recalled some painful memories to push himself and his players forward despite their commanding lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Chelsea sits eight points clear of Manchester City, and has the chance to go even further in front with many of the top teams off this weekend, but that won’t give the Italian any better sleep at night.

In the 1999/2000 season, Conte was nearing the end of his 13-year Juventus tenure. He’d won three league titles already, plus two league cup trophies and a Champions League title with the Serie A giants. With a comfortable nine point lead after 26 matches, the club became complacent. They would lose four of their final eight matches, collapsing on the final day in the pouring rain, allowing Lazio to come roaring back to win the title.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 26 ]

“I was captain of the team,” Conte said. “I remember after this game I must go to the European Championships with the national team. I didn’t sleep for six days because it was a shock for me to lose the title.”

Clearly, that still haunts him. “I have experienced this,” Conte continued. “When I continue to repeat that there are 13 games, there are 39 points… there is a long time before we can say we won the title. We must be focused, we must go step by step.”

The Blues host Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before a trip to West Ham next weekend. If anyone believes the Chelsea players are complacent holding such a significant lead with 13 matches to go, it’s clear that’s not nearly the case. Anything can happen in three months.