Werder Bremen secured a 4-1 away win over Hoffenheim on Sunday, leaving the home side with four defeats in a row, and coach Markus Babbel probably packing his bags. Meanwhile Wolfsburg could only draw with Hamburg.
Hoffenheim and Werder Bremen came into Sunday's clash in different shades of trouble. While home side Hoffenheim were enduring their worst ever first half of a Bundesliga season, even if they win their last two games before the winter break, Bremen are suffering through their own somewhat indifferent year.
The northern port city side were humiliated 4-1 at home by Leverkusen in midweek, and to add the proverbial insult, that meant they also slipped from seventh to 12th - 20 points from the top of the table and 10 from the bottom.
But an encounter with Hoffenheim's porous defense under Markus Babbel is the ideal confidence booster for any struggling midtable side. The hosts were 2-0 down inside half an hour, both goals down to defensive disorganization. The first came from the first real chance of the game: a 21st-minute vertical free-kick from Kevin de Bruyne curled to the left of the area, where it found the accomplished head of defender Sebastian Prödl, whose looping header curled beautifully over the flailing Koen Casteels and under the bar.
The second goal, from Marko Arnautovic, was equally simple. Hoffenheim defender Daniel Williams lost the ball near his own penalty area, and the Austrian striker was able to exchange the simplest of one-twos with de Bruyne before knocking the ball home unmarked from close range.
Then Hoffenheim seemed to collapse, with their own fans already whistling in anger. Babbel made a desperate double substitution before halftime (never a good sign), bringing on Vincenzo Grifo for Sven Schipplock and Roberto Firmino for Stephan Schröck, but it didn't provide the solidity to prevent two one-on-one chances for Werder that should have extended the lead. It was noticeable that the first of these - for de Bruyne - resulted from another disastrous loss of possession from Williams.
Much like their home defeat to Leverkusen last weekend, when they were similarly shambolic and two down at halftime, Hoffenheim came out of the interval with new intent. Again, they pulled one back early - this time in the 50th minute through Sejad Salihovic, who received the ball in front of goal and finished easily after intricate work from Firmino and Kevin Volland.
Over the next 15 minutes or so, Hoffenheim dominated possession, and threw themselves into challenges with unwonted vigor. They duly created chances, two of which were wasted by Joselu.
It was all too little too late, however. Once Bremen had weathered the storm - or the mild drizzle - from Hoffenheim, they decided the game the first chance they got. Arnautovic brilliantly converted a free-kick just outside the area in the 73rd minute, and then completed his first Bundesliga hat-trick six minutes later, thanks to an excellent through ball from substitute Joseph Akpala.
The result lifted Bremen to eighth, and rooted Hoffenheim to 16th place.
Wolfsburg draw with HSV
Sunday's other match saw a thrilling 1-1 draw between two teams slowly rebuilding their seasons after poor starts. Wolfsburg, still languishing in 15th after losing to Mönchengladbach in midweek, hosted Hamburg, who had climbed to 12th thanks to a win over Schalke - despite being without their new superstar, Rafael van der Vaart.
The Dutch international was missing against Wolfsburg once again - in fact his torn muscle is expected to keep him out for another two weeks - but HSV's remaining attackers seemed determined to demonstrate that he's not as necessary as everyone imagines.
Playing a good old-fashioned two-striker formation, HSV took the lead in the 26th minute thanks to some deft interplay between the attacking pair. Artjoms Rudnevs sliced open the home defense with the simplest of balls for his partner Maximilian Beister, who was cool personified with only Diego Benaglio to beat.
The Wolfsburg goalkeeper promptly launched into a tirade against his sheepish defenders, who had managed to play Beister onside despite being nowhere near him.
The goal opened up the game, and Wolfsburg went on the attack. For the rest of the first half, virtually everything they created went through midfielder Diego, consistently creating threats just behind the always dangerous Bas Dost. Nevertheless the best chances came from set pieces, and it took excellent saves from Rene Adler to keep out Naldo and later a headed effort from Dost. At the other end, Milan Badelj should have doubled HSV's lead when Wolfsburg defender Simon Kjaer chested it down to him.
The second half saw good chances at both ends - at first. HSV were denied a second goal by Beister's inability to finish when Dennis Aogo sent an excellent cross in from the left. Meanwhile, Wolfsburg - particularly Bas Dost - were repeatedly denied by the superlative Adler.
But the Wolves got the equalizer in the 68th minute through defender Simon Kjaer, whose fine glancing header - after a beautiful cross from the byline by Marcel Schäfer - left Adler with no chance. The HSV goalkeeper, fouled in the build-up and now under relentless pressure, let off steam at the referee, and was rewarded with a yellow card.
The last 20 minutes flew by as the hosts threw all their remaining energy into finding a winner. They forced a number of chances, but could not break through. The result meant that Hamburg leapt to ninth, while Wolfsburg remained in 15th.