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

May 27, 2013, 2:44 AM EDT

Germany Soccer Champions League AP

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.

  1. thememyselfandiguy - May 27, 2013 at 6:22 AM

    Richard Farley, you are wrong Lewandowski is way easier to replace the Götze. Try to find a young elite offensive midfielder that you can get from another club..NOT POSSIBLE!!! Dortmund will forget Lewandowski the next minute when he left the building. You can get so many players as the lonley forward. You say no? Then tell me why Bayern Munich cant trade Gomez….because the Market is full of good forwards. Btw, you might missed it but Bayern Munich copied the system of Dortmund the last season.

  2. capsfan19 - May 27, 2013 at 6:46 AM

    I agree with the author. Yea you can have a midfielder with a lethal feel for the field and progression of the play, but if you don’t have the clinical foward to finish the play (ie score goals) then what do you have?
    Any player to score 4 goals, let me say again, FOUR GOALS against madrid is not someone easily replaced.
    Dortmund played excellenty without goetze in the champs final. Their central game was awesome but its very hard to contain bayerns wide game.
    And think about this memyself and blah, the ENTIRE dortmund team is built around the lewandoski. Certainly goetze’s loss would be felt in the midfield, but with the key piece of an effective finisher what do you have? Why has dortmund been almost irrelevant prior to his arrival? Would barca be as successful without messi?

  3. capsfan19 - May 27, 2013 at 6:48 AM

    And they cannot get rid of gomez because he is old and not very fast. Why is madzucic starting over him?

  4. thememyselfandiguy - May 27, 2013 at 10:34 AM

    capsfan19 | May 27, 2013, 6:48 ‘ EDT
    And they cannot get rid of gomez because he is old and not very fast. Why is madzucic starting over him?

    Really? Mario Gomez is 27!!! and its Mandzukic not Madzucic. You have no clue what you are talking about. Gomez is a Striker like Lewandowski. Lewandowski has the better ball skills. However, at the direct shot Gomez is not far behind him. Mandzukic however is a powerhouse. This guy works soccer. You find him all over the field also playing a huge part of the Bayern defense system. Gomez and Lewandowski are “old fashion” forwards. Thats the reason Mandzukic is playing. Lets see how Bayern changes the system and playing with Lewandowski, Mandzukic and Goetze. You better stay with hockey and Olaf Koelzig when it comes to german sport 😉

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