Dortmund showed huge character in racking up a 3-0 victory over fourth-placed Frankfurt. After a flying start, the reigning champs had to play short-handed for more than an hour. They mastered that challenge with ease.
Dortmund came into the match seeking redemption for last week’s shock home loss to Hamburg, and their intensity was on immediate display.
Only eight minutes had expired when a nice bit of one-touch football saw Mario Götze thread a perfect pass to send Marco Reus through Frankfurt’s back four. Reus had the option of laying off for Julian Schieber, filling in for the suspended Robert Lewandowski at striker, but chose to have a go himself. It was a good decision - Dortmund led 1-0.
Reus doubled that advantage a mere two minutes later. Mats Hummels sent him through this time, and he curled the ball around Frankfurt keeper Kevin Trapp.
Dortmund were dominating, but Schieber was a bit too eager to make an impression. In the space of four minutes, he picked up a pair of yellow cards, ending his work day after only a half an hour.
Frankfurt, though, were unable to press their man advantage. Dortmund continued to press forward and generate scoring chances. And they were rewarded in minute 65. Ilkay Gündogan released Götze, who penetrated into the Frankfurt area, held off two defenders and passed back to Reus. Reus made no mistake in completing his hattrick.
The outcome was now a foregone conclusion, and to compound Frankfurt’s misery Takashi Inui picked up a second yellow with a quarter of hour to go.
The result means Dortmund stay in second place, one point ahead of Leverkusen. Frankfurt remain in fourth, but the gap to spot five in the table has shrunk to three points.
Leverkusen lead the way
Earlier Leverkusen got the sort of workmanlike victory teams need if they want to play internationally. Opponents Augsburg may be second to last in the standings, but they hadn’t looked like relegation candidates in 2013. And despite playing at home, Leverkusen initially had a much harder time than expected.
In minute 25, Stefan Kiessling broke the ice. It was a very Kiessling-like goal, with the lanky striker snaking his way around his marker and somehow getting his head to a cross. Augsburg by no means rolled over, and the hosts were somewhat fortunate to take a lead into the dressing room.
In the second half, Leverkusen seemed content to defend their lead. But in minute 75, Kiessling found Lars Bender, who rifled home what would prove to be the decisive goal.
It was lights out for Augsburg - or so Bender and his teammates seemed to think. Augsburg's Sascha Mölders clawed one back for the visitors late in the proceedings, but the Pillboys held on for the 2-1 win.
"We didn't play as fluidly as we have recently," admitted Leverkusen coach Sascha Lewandowski after the match. "But we were committed on offense and in defense. The three points are what were important today."
Those points keep Leverkusen on course for the Champions League next season.
Ambiguous draw for Schalke
No one expected much of Schalke on the heels of last week's thrashing by Bayern, but they managed to eke out a 2-2 draw in Mainz.
The Royal Blues' defense looked brittle as Nicolai Müller powered his way up the right in minute 27. Müller showed a good eye to spot the usually wasteful Andreas Ivanschitz, and the Austrian was on target for a change.
In minute 40 Schalke levelled things thanks to two new Brazilian acquisitions. Raffael swooped in to claim a bobble by Mainz keeper Christian Wetklo. He then passed to Michel Bastos who did the honors.
The second half was a mirror image of the first. Just after the hour mark, Zdenek Pospech broke up the right side and blasted a shot past Schalke keeper Timo Hildebrand. But Bastos again equalized from medium range, after too many Mainz defenders congregated around youngster Max Meyer.
The result is probably enough to save embattled Schalke coach Jen Keller's skin for another week. For Mainz coach Thomas Tuchel it was two points too few.
"None of us are satisfied with the result," Tuchel growled to reporters. "Luck just isn't on our side at the moment."
Wild ride in Bremen
Bremen's momentum of late came to a crashing halt as they went down 3-2 at home to upstarts Freiburg. The visitors got the stronger start, and Max Kruse duly put them ahead. Bremen equalized before the break on their first real chance, with Kevin de Bruyne providing for striker Nils Petersen.
After the restart, Daniel Caligiuri got scissored in the box and went down. He converted the resulting penalty. Petersen then netted his brace and another equalizer for Bremen, after keeper Oliver Baumann got his wires crossed.
But a Bremen keeping mistake handed Freiburg victory. In minute 70 Sebastian Mielitz flapped at a corner, and after a mad scramble, including a shot off the crossbar, Matthias Ginter scored the game-winner. The 3-2 upset win keeps Freiburg in fifth in the table.
Right behind them are Hamburg. They got a 1-0 victory against a Mönchengladbach side that looked tired from Thursday's Europa League clash. Rafael van der Vaart got the lone goal with a blast from over 26 meters in minute 24.
Down in the nether regions of the table, Düsseldorf took a step toward staying in the first division with a 1-0 win over last-placed Greuther Fürth. The hosts were given a soft penalty in the very first minute, but striker Dani Schahin declined to accept the invitation, pushing the ball weakly at Fürth keeper Wolfgang Hesl.
Axel Bellinghausen scored the lone goal in minute 18, when Fürth defender Matthias Zimmermann failed to deal with a long ball.
In minute 36, the Shamrocks' day got even worse when Jozsef Varga headed for an early shower after a second yellow card. Fürth have trouble scoring at full strength, and down a man, they never looked good for an equalizer. Their descent toward the second division accelerates.
In Friday's match runaway leaders Bayern Munich got a comfy 2-0 win in Wolfsburg.
On Sunday, Nuremberg meet Hanover, and Hoffenheim tackle Stuttgart in a relegation battle.