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.

“Injustice.” “Incomprehensible.” Ronaldo again protests suspension

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The five-game suspension Cristiano Ronaldo received for making contact with an official is not sitting well with the forward.

Better put: it’s still not sitting well.

Six days ago, Ronaldo took to Instagram to say he was being persecuted after his red card in the Spanish Super Cup.

[ MORE: EFL Cup Tues. wrap ]

Tuesday afternoon, he kept up the strong words by saying the suspension is “incomprehensible” and “an injustice.”

Roughly translated, Ronaldo posted, “One more incomprehensible decision. From injustice to injustive, they will never overcome me. And as always I will come back stronger. Thank you to all who have supported me.”

We’ll say this: He’s a really good soccer player.

Barca to offer Liverpool $176m for Coutinho

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Barcelona is insane.

Desperate following a rough two-legged loss to Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup, the Blaugranas are reportedly ready to offer $176 million to Liverpool for Philippe Coutinho.

Read it again: $176 million for Philippe Coutinho. It’s about $126 million with $12 million more when Barca clinches a UCL spot over the next four seasons (which they have done every year since finishing sixth in 2002-03).

[ MORE: EFL Cup Tues. wrap ]

Even in this transfer market, that’s nuts. Crazy to offer, and maybe even crazier not to accept.

That’s pretty much two-thirds of the Neymar money. Two-thirds (I keep repeating myself with this story)

It’s even a convenient out for Jurgen Klopp, who’s said Liverpool is not a selling club. Here, he can say with a straight face that the club can improve with this money by selling a player who has — and I recognize it’s not all about goals and assists — one double-digit goal season in his career and a career single-season high of seven PL assists (done thrice).

Almost anyone who’s had the audacity to say the Reds should accept the bid has often been shot down by the Anfield faithful online. “It’ll ruin our season” and “How do we replace him this late?” are the common cries.

To the first question: No, it won’t. To the second: Easy?

It’s not like-for-like, but nearly every player in the world is available for $176 million. It’s not like-for-like, but here’s a short list: Antoine Griezmann, Gareth Bale, Paulo Dybala, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Marco Reus… Shoot! Klopp could sign 2-3 of his favorite BVB alums.

With this fee, Coutinho would become the second-highest transfer fee of all-time, behind only Neymar. There are makeweights Barcelona could offer that would make the deal even more intriguing to the Reds: Arda Turan, Andre Gomes, Denis Suarez.

Look at it from a neutral’s eyes — which I know is hard from the number of times I’ve read @ Tweets that say, “The only people who would like this deal are fans of Chelsea or United!” — at some point, it becomes unreasonable to not take advantage of Barcelona’s desperation. Maybe Coutinho is worth the “fit” for Barca, but rejecting this fee is more illogical than the offer itself.

At the risk of inflaming every more Liverpool supporters, Ross Barkley is probably going to cost someone $35 million and he’s a year and a half younger (Coutinho is a superior player right now, but we’re talking about the market here).

And, lastly, at some point you’re telling your entire team room that you’re willing to turn down near record money — it would be the highest non-buyout clause transfer ever — to keep a player from his dream club.

Take the money. Use it. Move on.

EFL Cup Weds preview: East Lancashire Derby highlights slate

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Eighteen teams booked spots Tuesday in the League Cup’s third round, with Watford the lone Premier League side to take a fall.

Six more try their luck on Wednesday, the last day of tournament play before the big boys join up.

[ MORE: EFL Cup Tues. wrap ]

A sleepy big affair is the East Lancashire Derby between Burnley and now League One side Blackburn Rovers, a rivalry which has been staged in three leagues or competitions since the turn of the century. This makes it four, joining the Premier League (2009-10), FA Cup (2004-05) and Championship (six times since 2012-13).

Burnley has three wins and three draws since its last loss to Blackburn, which came via David Dunn penalty at Turf Moor in a Premier League match on March 28, 2010.

Make no mistake, Clarets goalkeeper Tom Heaton thinks it’ll be a fantastic affair (from burnleyfootballclub.com):

“And for the players. Make no mistake, we were all delighted when the draw came in,” said Heaton. “It’s a fantastic match we are all looking forward to. It’s a fantastic night as players, fans and for the club.

“We’ll be going there geared up to win the game and give it everything we’ve got. The new lads coming in will certainly get an eye opener for the atmosphere and how good it is. They’re brilliant games to play in, I’ve enjoyed every minute of them.”

If you’re surprised by the rivalry, you have company in Blackburn boss Tony Mowbray. From Rovers.co.uk:

“I have to say living in the north east of England, Suffolk and Scotland most of my life I never would have grasped that Blackburn and Burnley and the geography of how close they were to be honest,” he said.

“It is not something that has hit me in the face before of a huge rivalry and yet I can feel it from the people around the building who have lived here all their lives how important this game is to them. … We’ll give it our very best shot and leave no stone unturned in trying to get a result.”

Elsewhere…

Southampton, fresh off adding $19 million Dutch center back Wesley Hoedt, will host Wolverhampton Wanderers at St. Mary’s, one of four 2:45 p.m. ET kickoffs.

Also kicking off at that time is Newcastle United and Nottingham Forest at St. James Park, with USMNT fullback Eric Lichaj likely to feature for the visitors, as well as Rotherham United’s visit to Huddersfield Town and Cheltenham Town’s trip to West Ham United.

A quarter-hour later, the final two second round matches kickoff when Burnley hosts Blackburn Rovers and Rochdale heads to Stoke City.

Southampton lands $19 million Dutch CB Hoedt

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Southampton’s added another defender who checks all the boxes, and used its press release to cement its status on the future of want-away center back Virgil Van Dijk.

Saints added Lazio center back Wesley Hoedt on Tuesday, with the reported fee in the neighborhood of $19 million for the 4-times capped Dutch international.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Gooch scores for Sunderland ]

The 6-foot-2 defender is 23 years old, and played 23 matches for i Biancocelesti last season.

Here’s Saints vice chairman Les Reed:

“Finding a naturally left-footed player is even more difficult. We have been tracking central defenders on our target list for the past 12 months and Wesley has always been at the top of that list, so it was important to act when the opportunity came.”

As our own Joe Prince-Wright pointed out, Saints aren’t exactly rolling out the red carpet for Van Dijk’s departure.

Saints also have Maya Yoshida — who won a penalty for Saints this weekend — Jack Stephens, Maya Yoshida, Jan Bednarek and Florin Gardos in their corps.

Will Van Dijk stay? Betting sites have him at 5:6 odds to stay at Southampton, but somehow 1:1 to join Liverpool and 7:1 to head to Chelsea (Man City gets 24:1 odds).

At this point, we’d love to see Van Dijk stay and buck the summer’s (actually much longer than that) gossip as Saints fight for a Top Six place.