A stunning Andrej Kramaric hat trick led in-form Hoffenheim to a 3-1 win over Hannover on Friday, and lifted them in to fourth. But it wasn't all good news for Julian Nagelsmann's side, with Serge Gnabry injured early.
Hoffenheim 3-1 Hannover
(Kramaric 16', 50', 86' — Karaman 24')
They lost two of their most potent attacking threats to injury but another stepped up, as Hoffenheim's late Champions League charge gathered more momentum.
Germany international Serge Gnabry was the first to go. The 22-year-old, who had seven goals and two asssists in his last seven games before Friday, immediately clutched his thigh after laying on the opener for Andrej Kramaric (top, right).
The forward, on loan from Bayern Munich, stretched to reach a backpass that Salif Sane had left lamentably short and bent over in obvious discomfort immediately after. After receiving some treatment on his thigh, Gnabry hobbled off with an ice pack held to the injury and headed straight down the tunnel.
With the World Cup less than two months away, Gnabry looked to be playing himself in to Joachim Löw's thoughts as Hoffenheim climbed the league. But, after missing six weeks with a thigh complaint earlier in the season, the latest setback could yet prove fatal to his chances of booking a ticket to Russia.
The home side suffered another blow soon after Gnabry's exit. Hannover's Pirmin Schwegler found himself in space down the tight, looked up and picked out Kenan Karaman, who poked home his first league goal of the season from close range.
Despite having little to play for, the visitors were looking the more dangerous of the two sides, with Hoffenheim keeper Oliver Baumann kept busy for the rest of the half.
But, buoyed by an exceptional run of recent form, Julian Naglesmann's team flew out of the blocks and were rewarded for their fast start with Kramaric's second. If his first was a tap in, his second was a screamer. The Croatian dropped a yard in the box to meet a left wing corner with a rocket of a volley that flew past the keeper's right hand.
Though they led, the hosts suffered another potentially significant injury loss when Kerem Demirbay limped off with 20 minutes to go. Despite the absence of two of their attacking start, the home side turned up the heat and, as Hannover tried to find a way back into the game, found the killer blow.
Kramaric latched on to a long ball and, spying Hannover keeper Philipp Tschauner some way off his line, lifted it over his head with the outside of his right boot from 25 yards.
As the whistle blew, Nagelsmann's celebrations were muted. Much as these three points could prove critical, he'll know that tomorrow's medical assessments could have an even bigger impact on their Champions League hopes.