The 30th round of the Bundesliga came a little earlier than usual, as eight of Germany's top flight teams squared off on Tuesday to kick off the league's "English week."
The first of two days of mid-week matches featured a host of relegation battles and a few key games in the fight for spots European competition next season.
Augsburg, a team teetering on the brink of the drop zone, gave fifth-place Stuttgart a brief scare when Nando Rafael opened the scoring after just five minutes on a penalty kick. But Stuttgart, whose form seems to get better every week, responded in due time and were up 2-1 by the half thanks to goals from Serdar Tasci in the 24th minute and Martin Harnik in the 34th.
Near the end of the match, Stuttgart's Vedad Ibisevic spoiled Augsburg's hopes of earning at least a point in their home match with the final 3-1 goal in the 84th minute.
Stuttgart now find themselves dark horses for a spot in the Champions League qualifying matches next season after climbing from 11th place after the third game of the second half of the season. They trail fourth place Borussia Mönchengladbach by seven points.
The gap could have been wider had Mönchengladbach managed more than a draw against sixth-place Werder Bremen, who played with ten men for two-thirds of the match.
Bremen's Markus Rosenberg put the home side up in the 18th minute, taking advantage of a mistake by Gladbach's defender Dante and lofting the ball over Gladbach's keeper, Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Nine minutes later, Bremen's Sebastian Boenisch was sent off for a foul against Gladbach's Patrick Herrmann. The guests didn't take advantage of the extra man until the second half, when Mike Hanke scored twice to put Gladbach up 2-1. But Bremen, themselves fighting for a spot in the Europa League next year, rallied back and pulled even in the 74th minute thanks to a goal from Naldo.
Hertha misses chance to gain on Cologne
At the other end of the Bundesliga table, Hertha Berlin shot themselves in the foot at home against Freiburg, starting off their 2-1 losing effort with an own goal by defender Roman Hubnik in the 7th minute. Hubnik got in the way of an otherwise harmless cross from Freiburg's Garra Dembele, sending the ball off his knee and over Hertha keeper Thomas Kraft.
Sebastian Freis sealed Hertha's fate in the 67th minute, seeming to need very little effort to get past Hubnik on the back line and beat Kraft in the goal. Hubnik made good on one of his miscues and pulled one back for Hertha in the 81st minute, but his side couldn't rally in the final nine minutes for the equalizer.
The loss keeps Hertha in a relegation spot, and represents a missed opportunity to move ahead of Cologne in the table thanks to Cologne's abysmal effort on the road against eleventh-place Mainz.
With goals from four different players, Mainz really only needed one half to put the game completely out of reach of the struggling Cologne side. Eugen Polanski started Mainz's 4-0 goal-fest off in the 19th minute, followed by strikes from mid-season transfer Mohamed Zidan in the 31st minute and Nico Müller in the 31st. After the break, once it was clear Cologne posed no threat to the home side, Adam Szalai added Mainz's fourth and final goal.
Colognehaven't won a match since the first week of February and are currently sitting in the relegation playoff spot in the table.
English week in the Bundesliga continues on Wednesday with Nuremburg hosting Schalke, Hoffenheim taking on Hamburg, Kaiserslautern traveling to Leverkusen, and Hanover at home against Wolfsburg. Wednesday also features one of the most decisive matches of the season, as table leaders Borussia Dortmund host a Bayern Munich club who is close on their heels in the race for the German championship.
Author: Matt Zuvela
Editor: Richard Connor