Title rivals Werder Bremen and SV Hamburg cancelled each other out in a 1-1 draw on Sunday in a welcome result for leaders Bayern Munich.
No change in standings for the Bundesliga's second and third
Former France international Johan Micoud, who had earlier missed a penalty, put hosts Bremen ahead on the stroke of half-time but teenager Mustafa Kucukovic equalized on 67 minutes with his first ever Bundesliga goal. Kucukovic had only been on the pitch 60 seconds after replacing Benjamin Lauth but picked up a pass from Japan forward Naohiro Takahara to level the scores.
The salvaged point leaves Hamburg six points behind Bayern heading into the six-week winter break and the reigning champions will be delighted with the result as Bremen are now eight points adrift.
On Saturday, with a 2-1 victory against a young Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich accumulated their 44th point in the first leg, setting a new Bundesliga record.
But it was a difficult task in front of 81,000 hostile spectators at Signal Iduna Park.
"We have played successfully all season. We held back in the first half," commented manager Felix Magath.
In fact, all the goals fell in the second half. Iranian midfielder Ali Karimi put the guests ahead in the 53rd minute. Claudio Pizarro doubled the lead in the 73rd minute. Florian Kringe pulled Dortmund back to within one six minutes later but coach Bert van Marwijk's team, with an average of just 23 years on the field, didn't have the meddle to pull even and spoil Bayern's winter vacation.
Schalke fall under interim head
Bayern's Pizarro (from left), Ballack and Makaay -- still comfortably on top
Last year's runners-up in the league, Schalke, fired coach Ralf Rangnick this week. Interim head Oliver Reck was unable to rally the Royal Blues against Stuttgart, dropping the match 2-0.
Mario Gomez and Danijel Ljuboja capitalized on two huge Schalke defensive errors for Giovanni Trapattoni's squad who completed a successful week. The south Germans reached the next round of the UEFA Cup also, and again find themselves -- for the time being -- in a UEFA spot, resting in fifth place.
"We showed that we were physically and mentally fit. That's a good sign for next year," was Trapattoni's assessment.
The Italian was only weeks ago sitting on a very hot manager's seat. In the league, the coach's carousel was in top gear this autumn. Duisburg, for one, released theirs. After their 1-1 draw against Mainz on Saturday, the Zebras announced that former German international Jürgen Kohler would take over the reins on the sidelines. Just nine days ago, Norbert Meier lost his job after a head-butt incident with Cologne's Albert Streit.
Kaiserslautern get third win
The supporters of Kaiserslautern had been uncertain when their Red Devils would again notch a victory, but Halil Altintop's hat trick put their fears to rest as Lautern beat Wolfsburg 3-2. Altintop, who had stormed the league's goalscorer table with 10 strikes in the nine games, finally broke a two-month scoring drought to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 victory for a jubilant 23,000 strong crowd at Fritz Walter Stadium.
Gladbach's Ze Antonio (l) fights for the ball with Frankfurt's Ioannis Amanatidis
In Mönchengladbach, around 48,000 supporters watched a wild game against Frankfurt that ended 4-3 in favor of their club. The Foals spotted the guests a two-goal lead after 22 minutes. They pulled one back on Marcell Jansen's strike before half-time. Oliver Neuville struck twice (77th and 82nd minutes) to put Gladbach on top. Vaclav Sverkos cushioned the lead in the 88th minute before Chris added the final goal. The loss halted Frankfurt's five-game undefeated streak.
Rapolder loses against old club
Rapolder was the seventh Bundesliga coach to vacate his seat this season
Cologne's manager Uwe Rapolder returned to his old club Bielefeld desperately looking for a victory but his former teammates sent him back home with a 3-2 loss. It came despite Christian Springer putting Cologne up 1-0 after just 48 seconds. Bielefeld scored three times in the second half to turn the match around. On Sunday, Rapolder lost his job, which he hadn't even held onto for a whole season.
In Leverkusen, the 2002 Champions League runners-up continued their slow drift downwards in the Bundesliga. A 0-0 draw against Hanover left the once-proud club in 12th place with little chance of making it to European competition next season.
In Sunday's other game, Hertha Berlin needed a late Alexander Madlung goal to clinch a point in a 1-1 draw with FC Nuremberg. Ivan Saenko put Nuremberg ahead in the capital on 55 minutes but Madlung equalized to help Hertha move up to fifth.