Bayern Munich continue to run ram shod over the league, opening up the second leg of the season with a 3-1 victory at Mönchengladbach. For title contenders Hamburg and Bremen, it is now or never to catch the Bavarians.
Roy Makaay returned to old form with two goals in the second-leg opener
Dutch international Roy Makaay had a poor first round in the Bundesliga. After a scorching start with six goals in the first three matches, the striker seemingly broke off all contact with his teammates, finding the net only two more times in the remaining 14 first leg matches.
At Mönchengladbach, the Dutchman struck twice to help secure a 3-1 Bayern victory, which boost their lead for the time being to nine points over second-place Hamburg. Midfield director Michael Ballack, very likely ready to move to greener pastures at the end of this season, boosted his stock by scoring the third goal.
Below freezing temperatures at the Borussia Park by no means deterred Bayern coach Felix Magath's side from picking up where they left off in the first leg bringing their victory total to an incredible 15 in 18 matches.
Hamburg and Bremen must pick up their play another notch and avoid any stumbles if they want to catch the 18-time Bundesliga champions who had "the old Makaay" in Friday's match, as Magath put it.
Six-point lead "not a problem"
Ailton begins his hunt against Bayern in a Hamburg uniform
Hamburg management is hoping Ailton, on loan for the second leg from Besiktas Istanbul, will add some extra punch to a side that has a solid defense but is lacking scoring power.
"I am delighted to be back in Germany and hope to have 17 great games for Hamburg in the second half of the season," Ailton said. "I want to hunt Bayern again."
That's just what Hamburg needs to do to pull ahead, but it may be more like taking aim at the dust Munich leaves behind in its unstoppable run. If Hamburg is to come out on top, Ailton needs to demonstrate the success he had with Werder Bremen (28 goals) when he led the team to the league title in 2003/04.
Bremen down but not out
Bremen's Miroslav Klose (l) separated his shoulder in Cup loss
Third-placed Werder Bremen, now 11 points adrift of Bayern, go into the second leg having to lick their wounds after losing a midweek cup match to regional side St. Pauli.
Bremen travel to Arminia Bielefeld on Sunday with doubts over German international striker Miroslav Klose, the Bundesliga's top scorer with 16 goals, who left the St. Pauli game with a shoulder injury. Team officials expect him back in three weeks, as the injury proved less serious than originally feared.
Table closer at bottom
Down at the bottom of the table, things are very tight with nine teams -- half of the teams in the Bundesliga -- concerned about falling into the second division.
Kaiserslautern, German champions in 1998, prop up the rest, but MSV Duisburg and FC Cologne are only above them on goal difference with the bottom three all on a meager 12 points.