Top Bundesliga scorer Mario Gomez hammered home three first-half goals to lead Bayern Munich to a convincing 5-1 thrashing of visiting Bayer Leverkusen. The win puts Munich back in third place in the standings.
Munich tore through the Leverkusen defenses
The Munich victory left second-place Leverkusen eight points adrift of Bundesliga leaders Borrussia Dortmund with just four games remaining.
Gomez, playing in a two-pronged attack alongside Miroslav Klose, fully compensated for the absence of suspended Arjen Robben.
The striker's fourth Bundesliga hat trick of the season took his tally to 22 to make him the leading scorer.
The bad news for Leverkusen began in the seventh minute when Simon Rolfes headed a shot into his own goal after a corner, putting Munich on the scoreboard.
In the 28th minute, Gomez was set up by Thomas Müller after Leverkusen's Arturo Vidal needlessly tried to save a corner by backheeling the ball, but instead found Müller, who passed to Gomez.
Gomez then scored twice in the space of two minutes just before the break.
Munich's win allowed the Bavarians to leapfrog Hanover into third-place after Hanover failed to do better than a scoreless draw against Hamburg on Saturday.
Fourth place would mean playing in the Europa League, an indignity for Germany's biggest club.
Mario Gomez, bottom, scored his fourth hat trick of the season
Dortmund, meanwhile, emphasized its Bundesliga championship ambitions on Sunday by cruising to an easy 3-0 victory at home against Freiburg.
Dortmund now needs just four points from the remaining four games to secure its seventh league title.
In front of a madhouse of more than 80,000 home crowd fans, Mario Götze opened the scoring in the 23rd minute on Dortmund's first real opportunity.
Robert Lewandowski found the net in the 43rd minute followed by Kevin Grosskreutz in the 78th.
Dortmund was never really challenged. Although Freiburg tried repeatedly to move the ball out of its half of the pitch, its advances were snuffed every time it reached mid-field.
Mario Götze (l) underscored Dortmund's title ambitions
Relegation battle rages
A raft of other games were played over the weekend in the Bundesliga, with several teams trading places in the bottom half of the standings.
In Wolfsburg, the hosts grabbed the lead against the run of play in the 39th when a long kick-off from Diego Benaglio fell kindly off a defender to Mario Mandzukic, who fired a low shot home from the edge of the area.
Naki slotted home the 1-1 equalizer after being set up nicely by Takyi in the 61st. Matthias Lehmann made it 2-1 from a tight left angle in the 77th for the important victory.
Wolfsburg's Jan Polak headed in the goal that salvaged the solitary point for St. Pauli in the 89th minute.
The 2-2 draw leaves St. Pauli in 17th place and Wolfsburg in 16th on 29 points each, four points shy of safety. Wolfsburg is winless in four games since Felix Magath returned as coach, while St.Pauli earned its first point after losing the previous seven games.
"I am satisfied with the result, but obviously not with the game," said Magath. "Once again, we have shown that we lack the things you need in a relegation fight. We lacked both the team spirit and the will to win this game."
In the danger zone
Werder Bremen and Champions League heroes Schalke also drew on Saturday, with the game ending 1-1.
Sandro Wagner scored the first goal for Bremen in the 59th minute, but Edu equalized for the visitors just four minutes later.
While Schalke are safe with 40 points and are in 10th place, Bremen have 35 points, just six above the drop zone with four rounds left in the season.
Stuttgart had three reasons to celebrate while Cologne scraped out just one
Quick triple for Stuttgart
VfB Stuttgart got a breather with a 3-1 victory at Cologne and moved into 14th place on 33 points after scoring their three goals inside of 11 minutes. The win put an end to Cologne's seven-game home winning streak.
Christian Träsch scored from outside the penalty box in the 51st minute and Martin Harnik added his name to the score sheet two minutes later from short range. Zdravko Kuzmanovic added the third goal when he converted a 63rd-minute spot kick after the referee called defender Geromel for a handball. Milivoje Novakovic got the consolation goal in the 69th for Cologne.
Kaiserslautern, Werder Bremen (34 each) and Cologne (35) are also not yet safe from relegation, while bottom club Borussia Mönechengladbach (26) lost 1-0 in Mainz on Friday.
Meanwhile, Frankfurt's relegation fears increased when they were beaten by Brazilian teenager Roberto Firmio's 78th-minute winner in Hoffenheim.
The club now finds itself down to 15th place on 33 points - a significant fall from grace after having played good soccer in the first half of the season. The three points help Hoffenheim move up to ninth place, equal on 40 points with Schalke.
Kaiserslautern could not allay relegation fears with four games to go this season after losing 2-0 at home against sixth-placed Nuremberg thanks to goals from Christian Eigler and Robert Mak. Kaiserslautern now sit in 13th place.
Author: Gregg Benzow, Sean Sinico (SID, dpa, AFP, AP)
Editor: Darren Mara