Schalke beat Freiburg 2-0 in Sunday's early Bundesliga clash, somewhat easing the pressure on coach Jens Keller. The performance was not great, but still less convincing were Leverkusen, beaten 1-0 at home by Frankfurt.
It was an easy if unconvincing win over lowly Freiburg, but it was good enough for Schalke to cut the deficit to five points on Mönchengladbach in the coveted fourth Champions League spot.
And Freiburg - dumped out of the Europa League by Seville in midweek - look extremely unlikely to make it back to Europe next season. They ended the day where they started it, in 16th, just a point outside the automatic relegations spots.
The first half was cagey. Schalke looked low on confidence, and Freiburg similarly toiled like a team who hadn't scored in over 200 minutes of Bundesliga football. But the visitors defended well, with Oliver Baumann in goal blocking strongly whenever a shot did penetrate.
As the first period wore on, the Royal Blues were reduced to long-range shots and occasionally dangerous deliveries from free-kicks and corners. And it was one of these that led to the first goal.
In keeping with the unconvincing attacking play, it took an own goal to break the deadlock. Just a minute before half-time, Nicolas Höfler looked hapless as he jumped and was ill-advised to attempt to control the looping corner with his knees at the same time. Unsurprisingly, the ball bounced straight into the empty net.
Not pretty, but tense
The second half was similarly unsatisfying as a footballing spectacle, but consistently dramatic. Schalke became more positive, and both Jefferson Farfan and Jermaine Jones, who joined proceedings around the hour mark in place of Christian Fuchs, began to impose themselves on the right.
Their penetrating crosses caused goal-mouth kerfuffles on several occasions, but it was another dead ball - a penalty - that brought the second goal in the 67th minute. Farfan dispatched the spot kick with suitable aplomb after Max Meyer was brought down as he marauded into the penalty area.
At that point the game briefly sprang to life, as the invigorated home side scented blood. A couple of minutes after the second goal, the 18-year-old Meyer - a burgeoning talent - almost scored a spectacular overhead kick, only to be denied by an athletic stretch from Baumann.
But soon, as it became clear that Freiburg were thoroughly harmless in attack, Schalke settled into controlling the game - the loudest roar in the final moments came when long-suffering Kyriakos Papadopoulos took to the field in place of Farfan.
The passion of the popular but much-injured Greek has been missed in Gelsenkirchen, as this lackluster matched showed.
Frankfurt rock Leverkusen
Sunday's second Bundesliga match turned into a frustrating affair for second-placed Leverkusen, who went down to an unlikely 1-0 defeat at home to Frankfurt. The game followed a similar pattern to Sunday's earlier one at first: a top-of-the-table side, tired from exertions in the Champions League, hosted a club toiling in the Bundesliga's nether regions, themselves returning from midweek Europa League action. Though in this case Eintracht Frankfurt could hardly use this as an excuse, as they had made seven changes from the team that beat Apoel Nicosia on Thursday.
And yet Frankfurt, winless in ten Bundesliga matches, contented themselves with crowding out their illustrious opponents throughout the first half and offering little in the way of attacking play. Leverkusen apparently could not be induced to raise their game, even by the prospect of opening up an eight-point gap on Dortmund and Mönchengladbach in third and fourth respectively.
As in the earlier game, the best hope of a goal in the first period came from a set-piece - a free-kick won by Leverkusen's star striker Stefan Kiessling. But Gonzalo Castro thrashed his effort four meters wide of the post.
The game suddenly sprang to life on the hour mark, when Leverkusen gave away a free-kick outside the area. Since their guests had shown little attacking incentive thus far, the Werkself were still dawdling back to form a wall when the kick was taken quickly along the ground out right. Sebastian Jung picked it up near the touchline and launched a brilliant cross to the six-yard box, at whose edge the defender Marco Russ suddenly rose to head in.
That was enough to sting Leverkusen into action, and the final half-hour of the game featured a flurry of long balls from the likes of Son Heung-min and Giulio Donati and mazy runs and venomous shots from Kiessling.
Turkish international Ömer Toprak should have done better in the 73rd minute, when he got on the end of a quick breaking move into Frankfurt's area, but could only turn his free header well wide of the post.
The game turned more fractious at the end, as Frankfurt did what they could to hold up play, and Leverkusen threw everything forward trying to get back on level terms. Then in injury time, things turned mildly farcical as the guests attempting to hold the ball in their opponents corner, only for substitute Marvin Bakalorz to suddenly find himself with a free run into Leverkusen's penalty area.
There he was brought down, and the penultimate kick of the game was Joselu's spot-kick, which Bernd Leno managed to turn against the cross-bar. The last kick was the Spaniard's hapless attempt to score the rebound, which ended up somewhere in the stands.
Though Leverkusen still have second place sewn up going into the winter break, the defeat leaves them seven points adrift of the all-conquering Bayern Munich.