All the Bundesliga front-runners in action on Saturday secured three points. While matters were somewhat tense for Dortmund and Mönchengladbach, red-hot Bayern Munich steamrolled wayward Hertha Berlin.
League-leaders Borussia Dortmund and third-place Borussia Mönchengladbach both secured vital victories in Saturday afternoon's Bundesliga action, though neither side was able to boast an emphatic score line. Bayern Munich, on the other hand, took their goal tally for the past week up to 20 goals, smashing a comparatively meager six past Hertha Berlin after dismantling Hoffenheim and then Basel. Lower down the table, Mainz, Nuremberg, and freefalling Hamburg all had difficult days at the office.
Borussia Dortmund got off to an ideal start in their tricky home encounter against Werder Bremen, taking the lead through a Shinji Kagawa header after just seven minutes. In a characteristically slick move, left winger Kevin Grosskreutz crossed to Ilkay Gündogan at the far post, who unselfishly and neatly put the ball on a platter for Kagawa. The diminutive Japanese star's 17th league goal since joining Dortmund at the start of last season was the first he had ever scored with his head.
As for Bremen, traveling to Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund is bad enough, but to do so with an injury-plagued squad and thus sporting the youngest starting eleven ever fielded in club history is rather like heading up Mount Everest on a mobility scooter.
Though the hosts created easily the lion's share of the chances and dominated possession, they were never able to build on their lead, hanging on for a nervous, but thoroughly justified 1-0 win.
Early start, late finish
Borussia Mönchengladbach bagged the earliest goal of the match day after a 6th-minute howler from Leverkusen center back Daniel Schwaab, who effectively played Marco Reus clean through on goal with a miscued clearance. The match subsequently stagnated, with just a few clear-cut chances shared out relatively evenly until the latter stages.
Leverkusen's in-form striker Stefan Kiessling leveled the score with quarter of an hour left to play, finishing from close range after Gladbach's Marc-Andre ter Stegen could not gather up an earlier effort on his goal. It was a rare mistake from one of the best young keepers in the game.
Yet there was a last-minute reprieve for a visibly overjoyed Gladbach coach Lucien Favre, as Reus fed Igor de Camargo with a perfectly-timed pass through the Leverkusen back line. Gladbach's super-sub rounded keeper Bernd Leno, and passed the ball into the home side's gaping goal.
The 2-1 victory broke a poor run of three games without a win for Favre's Foals against innocuous opponents Augsburg, Nuremberg and Hamburg.
Only six? Bayern must be in crisis
In-form Bayern Munich wiped the floor with ailing Hertha Berlin in the German capital on Saturday evening, winning 6-0. After their 7-1 and 7-0 demolition jobs against Hoffenheim and then Basel, the Bavarians just missed out on their quota. Nevertheless, 20 goals in three matches - an average of roughly one goal for every 13.5 minutes of play - is a respectable tally.
Hertha Berlin, who could scarcely have been in worse form going into the match, conceded within 10 minutes and never looked like establishing a foothold thereafter. Hertha have lost nine of their last 10 games, and now sit second from bottom in the table.
As for Bayern, the players were able to concentrate on dispelling rumors of a lack of harmony with ostentatious displays of selflessness. Franck Ribery and Toni Kroos, taking a leaf from Gladbach's book, played "rock, paper, scissors" to decide who would take a free kick - while regular penalty-taker Arjen Robben stepped aside to let Mario Gomez convert Bayern's second spot kick of the match, thus scoring his landmark 50th goal for the club. Three of Bayern's six goals came from the penalty spot.
Timid Wolves venture out of the door
After just eight minutes of play, Nuremberg also got in on the early action - courtesy of Daniel Didava - against visitors Wolfsburg, who entered the game as the worst team in the Bundesliga away from home this season. Confounding their own form book, the "Wolves" equalized after quarter of an hour through Mario Mandzukic, who latched on to a good cross from Marcel Schäfer.
Mandzukic turned provider after just 24 minutes in this high-scoring encounter, setting up strike partner Patrick Helmes - out of favor with coach Felix Magath until recently - for Wolfsburg's second. The well-struck volley, his goal second in two games, earned a round of applause and an almost surprised touchline expression from Magath.
Helmes added another equally tidy effort early in the second half, celebrating by striking a goggle-eyed pose with his cupped hands that seemed to say, "look what I can do."
Magath's Wolves looked largely untroubled in the latter stages, deservedly winning 3-1. Should the side could continue playing as well on the road as they do in their Volkswagen Arena, Wolfsburg might yet fight for European qualification at the end of the season.
Down and dirty
A pair of real dogfights among struggling Bundesliga sides also marked out the afternoon timetable, with Hamburg, Freiburg, Augsburg and Mainz battling for valuable points and top flight survival.
Midfielder and club captain Johannes Flum, still recovering from injury, gave Freiburg an early advantage in their crucial relegation battle with lumbering giants Hamburg. Flum was forced to limp off before the half time break, but only after receiving a hearty pat on the back from coach Christian Streich for what might prove to be a crucial goal.
Another Freiburg hero of recent weeks, Daniel Caligiuri, weighed in with a second on the stroke of half-time, against a Hamburg side apparently unaware of its own proximity to the drop zone. Caligiuri marched unmarked towards the far post, with Hamburg defenders content to watch his progress from a safe distance.
With just 20 minutes remaining in the match, Freiburg's Cedric Makiadi was the recipient of a clever short free kick by Julian Schuster; he blasted the ball into the top corner. Many dejected Hamburg fans took this humiliating third unanswered goal as their cue to beat the traffic jams and head home early. Had they stayed a moment longer, they might have at least seen an ultimately meaningless consolation goal from substitute Ivo Ilicevic.
Augsburg, meanwhile, were playing on home turf, with the confidence of no longer occupying the drop zone - where they have spent the lion's share of their first ever Bundesliga season. Of the five afternoon fixtures, this was the only one to remain goalless throughout the first 30 minutes of play. Sami Allagui put paid to that moments later, with a real poacher's effort after Maxim Choupo Moting was denied by Augsburg goalie Simon Jentzsch.
Shortly before the half-time break, Aubgsburg drew level thanks to a picture-book 20-meter volley from South Korean midfielder Koo Ja-Cheol. Defender Sebastian Langkampf put Augsburg ahead shortly after the break with a headed goal from a free kick. The struggling side held on to add another strong result to last week's goalless draw with league leaders Dortmund.
Author: Mark Hallam
Editor: Nicole Goebel