Dortmund go into the Bundesliga's winter break on a high note. Their great rivals Schalke are in turmoil, and they're back in the top three after a convincing 3-1 win over struggling Hoffenheim.
The atmosphere in Dietmar Hopp Stadium was a bit creepy, as Dortmund fans – among the most passionate supporters in the league – remained silent to protest the Bundesliga stadium security plans agreed upon last week.
The teams seem a bit disconcerted by the quiet, and little happened for the first 25 minutes. Then Dortmund prodigy Mario Götze opened the scoring with a stunning blast from outside the area. The ball went through a defender's legs and into the top right-hand corner of the net.
The defending champs failed to press their advantage, though, and eight minutes later they were overrun on their right-hand side. Kevin Volland put in a long cross and Sven Schipplock knotted things up.
After the break, though, Dortmund increased the tempo, and Hoffenheim were unable to keep up. Kevin Grosskreutz restored Dortmund's lead in minute 63 after a nifty quick-passing combination.
And three minutes later, Robert Lewandowski put the result beyond doubt with a fine left-footed shot from a tight angle.
"You could see that we lulled ourselves to sleep in the first half," Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp said. "But we pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps out of the muck."
The 3-1 win moves Dortmund back into third in the table ahead of Frankfurt, while Hoffenheim head into the winter break third-to-last. It was their sixth loss in a row.
Schalke sack Stevens
And to make the weekend even better for Dortmund, archrivals Schalke sacked Huub Stevens, recently voted the Royal Blues' "Coach of the Century," after a winless streak culminated in an embarrassing 3-1 home loss to Freiburg on Saturday.
Jens Keller, previously coach of the Schalke Under 17s, will take over the team for Tuesday's upcoming German Cup match against Mainz, and the club says he will remain in that post until the end of the season.
"We no longer believed that we could address this important match with the current constellation," Schalke commercial manager Horst Heldt told reporters after Stevens' dismissal was announced. "We had to make a change right now, today."
Heldt stressed that the parting had been amicable, but rumors had swirled about tensions between the gruff Dutchman and management for weeks, as Schalke failed to win a league match since November 10. And reading between the lines, one can sense not all was hunky-dory between Stevens and his former employer.
"When I got a call from Horst Heldt at quarter to eight summoning me to his office, I knew my time was up," Stevens told Dutch football magazine Voetball International. "Normally he's not on the grounds that early."
The majority of Schalke fans posting comments on the Internet seemed dismayed by the news that the Dutch coach, who won the UEFA Cup with Schalke in 1997, would be leaving.
In promoting the relatively unknown Keller, a close associate since his days in charge of Stuttgart, Heldt is putting his own neck on the line. Should the bottom drop out of seventh place Schalke's campaign this season, the commercial manager would likely be asked to go as well.
Tight one in Bremen
In the late Sunday match, the last league clash of 2012, Werder Bremen dominated at home against Nuremberg.
Youngster Kevin de Bruyne was particularly unlucky, hitting the post in both halves, as the hosts had large advantages in shots on goal, possession and challenges won. But they couldn’t find a way past Nuremberg keeper Raphael Schäfer.
And as is so often the case in football, Werder paid the price for their profligacy. Ten minutes from time, Timo Gebhart curled one in to stake Nuremberg to a 1-0 lead against the run of play.
Then, with just three minutes on the clock Bremen caught a huge break. De Bruyne smashed the ball into the middle, where it ricocheted off Nils Petersen into the net. Petersen was clearly offside, but the goal was allowed to stand.
The 1-1 draw didn’t bring smiles to either side. Bremen finish the year in twelfth spot, disappointing for a team with European ambitions. Nuremberg are in fourteenth.
The Bundesliga resumes on January 18, when Schalke take on Hannover.