Leverkusen have taken a huge step toward securing an automatic spot for the Champions League with a 5-0 thrashing of Hoffenheim. Again it was stars Stefan Kiessling and André Schürrle doing the damage.
Third-place Leverkusen came into their home match against second-from-bottom Hoffenheim knowing that this was the sort of game a Champions League-caliber team should win. Meanwhile, their opponents were hoping for an upset to take them up the table past Augsburg, who lost to Mönchengladbach on Friday.
It took 15 minutes for Leverkusen's talent advantage to show. Schürrle penetrated to the end line and showed fine vision, pulling the ball back for Kiessling, who made no mistake.
Eight minute later, Kiessling was on his way again and was brought down by Eugen Polanski. The Hoffenheim midfielder was red-carded for a professional foul, but Simon Rolfes squandered the resulting penalty.
Leverkusen refused to be diverted. At the half hour mark, Schürrle - who's reportedly headed to English side Chelsea next season - curled in a lovely shot from 18 meters and likely drove up Leverkusen's asking price.
Twenty minutes after the restart, Leverkusen put the result beyond doubt, when Kiessling came flying into the box to head home the hosts' third goal. And not to be outdone, Schürrle nabbed his brace three minutes later. Stefan Reinartz completed the 5-0 scoreline ten minutes from time.
"We simply aren't stable enough to compete with a team like Leverkusen," admitted Hoffenheim coach Markus Gisdol after the match.
Leverkusen are now well and truly Champions League bound, while Hoffenheim still trail Augsburg by three points in the table.
Frankfurt stop the rot against Schalke
Out-of-form Frankfurt were the clear underdogs at home against Schalke, who were seeking to solidify their hold on the fourth place and the Champions League qualification spot. But coach Armin Veh's men rediscovered some of the David-versus-Goliath spirit that made them the pleasant surprise of the first half of the season.
Schalke were by far the better team early on and were left scratching their heads at their inability to get on the scoreboard. Their best chance was a penalty in minute 24, but midfielder Michel Bastos' shot was weak, and Frankfurt keeper Oka Nikolov saved.
That bit of good fortune seemed to put some wind in the hosts' sails, and they grabbed the lead in minute 41. Defender Marco Russ headed in a free kick to cap off Frankfurt's brightest phase.
After the break Schalke pressed but failed to generate enough pressure to create an equalizer. Frankfurt held with relative ease for the 1-0 win.
"What can I say about a performance like that?" fumed Schalke sports director Horst Heldt. "Either you want to win or you don't, and apparently we don't."
The result means that Schalke fall seven points behind Leverkusen. The Royal Blues are only one point ahead of Freiburg, who have a game in hand. Frankfurt, Gladbach and Hamburg are also looming large in the rear-view mirror.
Bayern tie season points record
For the top two, Bayern and Dortmund, Saturday's matches were a chance to get a tune-up ahead of their midweek Champions League clashes against Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively.
Bayern certainly impressed in their dress rehearsal in Hanover. Munich ran out 6-1 winners in a match that was not nearly as close as the scoreline would suggest. Reserve strikers Mario Gomez and Claudio Pizarro both scored two goals in the match.
The win means that Bayern equal Dortmund's record 81 points in a season from 2011-12 and set a new season-best win record of 26 with four rounds left to play.
Dortmund had a far more competitive opponent in Mainz. Scarcely 30 seconds had elapsed before the home fans were cheering. A mistake by Mainz keeper Christian Wetklo gifted Marco Reus a clear look from point-blank range.
After that, the yellow-and-blacks dominated but failed to convert any of their chances until Robert Lewandowski scored just before the final whistle. It was the twelfth straight Bundesliga match in which the Polish striker scored.
The 2-0 win means the worst Dortmund can finish is third, guaranteeing them Champions League football next season.
Attention now shifts to the Champions League.
"The games against Barca will be highlights, between arguably the two best teams in Europe," Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes said to reporters.
"We are playing the biggest team in the world," Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp said, with reference to Real Madrid. "We're ready and want to make the final."
Hamburg slip by Düsseldorf
In northern Germany, Hamburg had the chance to close the gap to the Europa League spots, and even get within sniffing distance of the Champions League, at home against Fortuna Düsseldorf.
And from Hamburg's perspective, things began swimmingly. Just before the quarter-of-an-hour mark, playmaker Rafael Van der Vaart put the hosts in front with his first-ever headed goal in the Bundesliga. And six minutes later, he dribbled his way through multiple defenders and banked one in to double Hamburg's lead.
But Hamburg lost concentration as the match wore on. And Dani Schahin handed Düsseldorf a lifeline with a goal in minute 34.
Hamburg controlled the match in the second half, but couldn't come up with a decisive third goal. Fortuna were arguably a bit unlucky when the crossbar denied them a point in the dying minutes of the game.
"I'm very disappointed," Düsseldorf coach Norbert Meier said after the match. "You could see more was possible. We shouldn't hide behind cliches like 'Morale is good.' We have to quit making mistakes."
The 2-1 win for Hamburg means that despite their Jekyll-and-Hyde season they are only two points off the Champions League pace. Düsseldorf tread water in fifteenth place, three points ahead of Augsburg and the drop zone.
In Saturday’s late match, Hamburg’s northern German rivals Bremen suffered an embarrassing 3-0 home defeat to Wolfsburg. 18-year-old Maximilian Arnold and Ivica Olic staked the visitors to a healthy first-half lead, and former Bremen star Diego sank a penalty in minute 66 to complete the scoreline.
On Sunday, Stuttgart host Freiburg. The game is a rematch of Wednesday's German Cup semi-final, which Stuttgart won, thereby qualifying themselves for the Europa League. A win or a draw would move Freiburg, currently fifth, into the final Champions League spot.
The late match pits Nuremberg against their local rivals, last-placed Greuther Fürth.