German champions Bayern Munich put aside off-pitch problems to defeat Schalke 04 3-0 on Sunday and restore their six-point cushion at the Bundesliga summit after Hamburg's win on Saturday had reduced it to three.
Hasan Salihamidzic was on target as Bayern beat bitter rivals Schalke
The build-up to the match had been overshadowed by a controversial report in Friday's edition of the Munich newspaper TZ that claimed Bayern's German international Bastian Schweinsteiger was involved in a match-fixing scandal.
Bayern had spent the last two days issuing denials and considering legal action but their focus did not waver as they ran out convincing winners against Schalke.
The 21-year-old Schweinsteiger did not start with coach Felix Magath saying he was ill.
"Recent results have affected our confidence and we were very nervous at the start," admitted Magath. "But we scored the first and after that we played at the top of our game."
Bosnian international Hasan Salihamidzic scored a rare goal to put Bayern ahead on 48 minutes and eight minutes later Peruvian striker Claudio Pizarro produced a great chip finish. "I think it came off my shoulder but I don't care as it went in. It was an important goal and we kicked on from there," said Salihamidzic.
Substitute Roy Makaay, who was dropped in favor of Peruvian star Paolo Guerrero, scored late on to give the score line a flattering look.
It was tough on Schalke who had looked the more dangerous in the first half and had seen Bayern's Argentine international Martin Demichelis avoid a clear red card following a blatant elbow. With half-time approaching, Demichelis wedged his elbow into the face of Christian Poulsen but bizarrely it was the Danish international midfielder who got booked.
"We started well and were the better team but we conceded from a set-piece and it was always going to be difficult here in Munich," said Schalke 04 midfielder Fabian Ernst. Schalke's defeat leaves them one point ahead of Werder Bremen in third.
Hamburg win keeps them as main title challengers
Hamburg collected the points despite a lackluster display
SV Hamburg had moved to within three points of Bayern after a 1-0 victory over VfL Wolfsburg on Saturday to put the pressure on Bayern. "It is a good sign that we can play poorly yet still take all three points," said Hamburg captain Daniel van Buyten.
German international Benjamin Lauth, an outside candidate for a World Cup spot, scored in the 22nd minute to seal the win.
Bremen tasted their second successive league defeat with a 3-1 reverse at FC Nuremberg on Saturday.
German international forward Miroslav Klose scored his 18th goal of a terrific season, in which he is way ahead in the scoring charts, but it was not enough as Bremen's suspect defense collapsed again.
"I think you can say we are in a mini crisis," said Klose. "We all need to stick together and pull through this as soon as possible."
Bremen and Schalke 04 appear to be sparring for the third and final Champions League spot with Hamburg now five points clear of Schalke and six of Bremen.
Leverkusen's decline continues with Mainz surrender
Mainz triumphed away for the first time in ten games at the BayArena
Bayer Leverkusen's slip into mediocrity continued with a 2-1defeat at home to Mainz. It was nine games without an away win for Mainz but two goals by Egyptian Mohammed Zidane put them in command at Leverkusen and Paul Freier's goal for Leverkusen at the end came too late to save the home side.
In a vital match for both sides, Dortmund beat Kaiserslautern 2-1 at home to keep their UEFA Cup hopes alive while Kaiserslautern slipped further in their relegation fight. Brazilian Dede put Dortmund ahead only for Kaiserslautern to equalize through Erwin Skela on the stroke of half time. Florian Kringe put Dortmund back in the lead after some great work on the wing by David Odonkor mid-way through the second half.
Duisburg and Cologne teeter closer to the edge
Duisburg continued their run as the Bundesliga's weakest away team with a 5-2 thrashing at Frankfurt. The home side were three goals up after only 13 minutes. A hat-trick by Ionnis Amanatidis and goals by Benjamin Köhler and Francesco Copado gave Frankfurt the points. Duisburg replied through Adam Bodzek and Clemens Lavric but on this evidence, their struggle to survive may be another losing battle.
Cologne players consider another autopsy as Hanover celebrate
Another side looking ominously at the drop is FC Cologne. The bottom club's slim chances of escaping relegation took another setback as Hanover kept up their hopes of playing in the UEFA Cup by moving up three places to sixth with a 1-0 home win. Iranian striker Vahid Hashemian gave Hanover the deserved lead just before half-time and Cologne struggled to fin any answer. Cologne seem certain to go down. They still have to face the Bundesliga's four top sides in their remaining matches.
Elsewhere Borussia Mönchengladbach and VfB Stuttgart played out a tepid 1-1 draw with a fine header for the opener by Gladbach's Milan Fukal being one of the few highlights. The Brazilian Cacao equalized for Stuttgart.
Hertha Berlin, who had ended a lean spell by upsetting Werder Bremen in a shock 3-0 victory last weekend, looked to be keeping their recovery on course with a 1-0 home against Arminia Bielefeld on Sunday. Serbia & Montenegro forward Marko Pantelic headed home the
winner on 61 minutes to keep Hertha's hopes of a UEFA Cup slot alive and tightened their hold on sixth place.