Bayer Leverkusen have dealt a blow to Nuremberg's Bundesliga survival hopes with a resounding 4-1 win. Meanwhile, Stuttgart earned a crucial win against Schalke in their fight for safety.
Nuremberg had an excellent opportunity to climb out of the Bundesliga drop zone on Easter Sundayafter Hamburg's loss the previous day
. But as they've done all season, der Club failed to take advantage of their chances, instead suffering their fourth consecutive defeat of the season.
Bayer Leverkusen, meanwhile, were looking to continue their post-Sami Hyypia success under interim coach Sascha Lewandowski. After Wolfsburg's victory against Hamburg on Saturday, the Werkself needed a victory to return to the Bundesliga's fourth and final Champions League qualification spot.
Emir Spahic gave Leverkusen the lead 16 minutes in with a half-volley from the top of the box. After Son Heung-Min cut in from the left wing, Emre Can brought the ball to Spahic, who rocketed a dipping shot that Raphael Schäfer narrowly missed. It was a deserved lead for Leverkusen after dominating possession.
But while the visitors looked confident going forward, they remained vulnerable to Nuremberg's counter attacks. They were finally undone in the 26th minute, when Marvin Plattenhardt's free kick bounced in the box and wrong-footed Bernd Leno, making it 1-1.
The second half saw Leverkusen amp up their pressure on Nuremberg. Three minutes after the restart, Sebastian Boenisch put the visitors ahead once again after finishing off Gonzalo Castro's free kick.
A brief period of promising play from Nuremberg ensued, but late goals Emir Spahic and Roberto Hilbert finished off the hosts' slim chances of getting a result from the match.
Leverkusen's victory puts them firmly in the driver's seat for what is quickly becoming a head-to-head race with Wolfsburg for Champions League qualification. The Wolves have a slightly simpler schedule for the season's final three matches - hosting Freiburg before traveling to Stuttgart and ending the season at Borussia Mönchengladbach. Lewandowski's men must take on an in-form Borussia Dortmund at home, then travel to Eintracht Frankfurt. They host Werder Bremen for the final match of the season.
Nuremberg can take at least some solace in the fact that Hamburg also lost over the weekend. They remain just a point off HSV, but finishing in the Bundesliga's 16th relegation playoff spot is becoming an increasingly realistic goal for the Franconians.
Crucial win for Stuttgart
Stuttgart earned three crucial points in their Sunday evening clash with visiting Schalke. Martin Harnik scored twice, while former Germany international Cacau notched his first Bundesliga goal in nearly 19 months.
It was Stuttgart who went ahead first. In the 23rd minute, Harnik leapt to meet Daniel Didavi's free kick in the box. Unmarked and with plenty of time, the Austrian winger sent a well-placed header past Ralf Fährmann to open the scoring.
As the second half wore on, Borussia Mönchengladbach-bound winger Ibrahima Traore became the focal point of Stuttgart's attack. His best move came eight minutes from halftime, when his wonderful cross was inexplicably put over the bar by striker Cacau.
But the Brazilian-born forward would make up for his glaring miss less than 10 minutes after the restart. Again Traore was the creator, sending in an excellent cross from the right flank that was finished off by an equally excellent header from Cacau.
Five minutes later, Harnik grabbed his second goal with a side-footed shot from the top of the box.
Adam Szalai's consolation goal in the 69th minute was only a brief interruption from Stuttgart's overall dominant performance against Jens Keller's side. Despite the loss, however, Schalke retain a firm grip on Champions League qualification. They sit four points ahead of fourth-place Leverkusen.
Stuttgart, meanwhile, have put four points of their own between themselves and Hamburg, who sit in the relegation playoff spot. Unfortunately for Huub Stevens' men, matches against Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich remain. But if Sunday evening's performance is anything to go from, Stuttgart are up for the challenge.