Sixth-placed Bremen held off a stout challenge from seventh-placed Hanover to maintain their hold on the Bundesliga's last Europa League spot. Meanwhile Schalke closed in on the fumbling Foals of Mönchengladbach.
The north German derby, where Bremen beat a strong Hanover side 3-0, was a duel for Germany's last European spot, as sixth-placed Bremen hosted Hanover in seventh, with only a point separating them.
Both teams came into the game on a run of weak form, which was reflected in the suitably subdued first minutes. Hanover had the best early chances - the clearest of which came in the 14th minute, when Didier Ya Konan, finding himself alone in the six-yard box, somehow blasted straight at goalkeeper Tim Wiese, with the goal at his mercy. Bremen's only response was a Claudio Pizarro free-kick that Hanover's Ron Robert Zieler struggled to keep out.
But after Hanover failed to convert their early dominance, the home side took the lead from a set piece in the 31st minute, when Pizarro was the quickest to a free-kick which Mehmet Ekici had floated in beautifully from the right.
Despite continually offering Hanover chances, Bremen were unlucky to go into the break only one goal ahead. Markus Rosenberg bundled the ball into the net on the stroke of half-time, only for the referee to controversially disallow the goal because of a spurious foul.
Werder soon made up for it in the second half, scoring two goals within six minutes to go 3-0 up. The first was a powerful Sebastian Prödl header - once again from an Ekici free-kick, and the second was a sweet finish from Rosenberg after excellent work from Pizarro.
Later, Ya Konan had the ball in the net for Hanover. But the goal was disallowed because his team-mate was lying in front of the goal in an offside position.
Bremen's win gives it a nice four-point cushion going into next week's showdown against league leaders Dortmund.
Schalke within point of Gladbach
Schalke capitalized on Mönchengladbach's frustrating 0-0 against Kaiserslautern on Friday to close in on the third-placed team, beating struggling Hamburg 3-1.
Despite Hamburg's excellent away record in recent weeks, Schalke took an early lead through Teemu Pukki in the 5th minute. The flying Finn, surprisingly included in the starting line-up, nodded in an inch-perfect cross from Atsuto Uchida.
Then there was a rare goal in the 26th minute for Christoph Metzelder, his first in the Bundesliga since November 2010. A Jurado corner dropped to the veteran defender, who swung a lanky leg to hammer it home from close range.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar added a third from the penalty spot seven minutes later, following a farcical episode in the Hamburg area. After a corner had to be re-taken because of a dispute between Heiko Westermann and the striker, Westermann appeared to pull down Huntelaar in the area. Referee Wolfgang Stark, having just warned both players, lost patience and gave Westermann a yellow card to go with the penalty.
Hamburg pulled one back in the dying minutes of the first half, when Gojko Kacar blasted home a loose ball in the penalty area, but HSV were unable to add to the tally in a largely turgid second half. The result leaves the Hamburgers with one point from their last four matches. Only four points separate them from the relegation places.
Schalke, meanwhile, are now breathing down the necks of the fumbling Foals in third place.
Author: Ben Knight
Editor: Zulfikar Abbany