Schalke traveled south and dispatched bottom-of-the-table Kaiserslautern 4-1 on Sunday afternoon, completing a perfect record of four wins among the Bundesliga's top teams this weekend.
Schalke conceded early but recovered to brush Kaiserslautern aside 4-1 on Sunday afternoon. The comprehensive defeat extended an unfortunate run for the Red Devils who have not managed to win once in their last 16 outings.
After their rivals Dortmund, Gladbach and Bayern Munich all grabbed three points on Saturday, Schalke needed a win on their journey south if they were to keep pace with the leading trio.
It was the Bundesliga's most open secret going into this game that Kaiserslautern's productivity in attack, or lack thereof, explained their position at the bottom of the table. This might have made Schalke - high-scorers among the German frontrunners but also the most profligate of the leading teams at the back - the ideal opponents. Around 48,000 people turned out at the Betzenberg stadium in Kaiserslautern, willing their Red Devils to finally find some goals.
Lautern fans got their wish within three minutes, when Brazilian defender Rodnei rose unmarked to head home a free kick from Christian Tiffert. For coach Marco Kurz's men, there followed the unenviable and unfamiliar task of holding onto this lead for 87 long minutes.
A matter of time
Lautern clung on bravely until the 40-minute mark, when an unstoppable long-range Lewis Holtby shot brought Schalke level. The Royal Blues pushed on after breaching the dam and were able to turn the game entirely on the stroke of half time. Dangerous left back Christian Fuchs dispossessed Olcay Sahan, quickly moved inside, and picked out Klaas-Jan Huntelaar on the edge of the penalty area. Given Huntelaar's form across all competitions this season, the outcome was easy to predict; he calmly beat his man and finished with aplomb, 2-1 Schalke.
The Royal Blues put the game beyond any real doubt just five minutes after the break. Teen winger Julian Draxler tore Lautern's right flank to pieces before laying the ball off towards his teammates. Jefferson Farfan took a touch but couldn't bring the ball under control, but Spanish veteran Raul was on hand to finish the move from the edge of the area.
Draxler came close with a solo effort 10 minutes later, although the youngster did have options around him who looked unhappy with his choice to pull the trigger. Less than a minute later Draxler reverted to his passing game, finding Holtby, who danced through the box only to be denied from close-range by Kaiserslautern goalie Tobias Sippel.
Schalke had taken complete control by the latter stages, exploiting the flanks with typical regularity, and the fourth goal seemed inevitable when it finally fell on 80 minutes. On the break with three attackers against one defender, Holtby brought the ball into the box, squared it to Jefferson Farfan - negating Sippel in the process - and watched the Peruvian knock the ball home.
Lautern, for whom desire and motivation have not usually been a problem in a troubled season, looked beaten against one of the league's most explosive attacking outfits.
Schalke stay fourth with Sunday's win, comfortably ahead of Bayer Leverkusen and just a point adrift of Borussia Mönchengladbach. Lautern, for fear of stating the obvious, remain rooted to the bottom of the table, currently six points away from safety. Coach Marco Kurz pulled the entire squad together into a huddle on the pitch after the defeat.
No Poldi, no potency
The Sunday evening fixture also finished 4-1, with Hanover overpowering visitors Cologne. On the back of their Europa League win against Standard Liege, coach Mirko Slomka's side controlled most of the match, with Cologne only able to find the net from a well-executed corner kick. The visitors were missing suspended captain Lukas Podolski and his absence was all too apparent when they sought to create chances going forward. Milivoye Novakovic and 18-year-old Poldi-replacement Mikael Ishak - making his senior team debut - both had chances, but they were few and far between.
Midfielder Lars Stindl opened the Hanover scoring, only for Cologne defender Kevin Pezzoni to head in an equalizer shortly before half time.
In the second period, Hanover converted their dominance into goals, although they needed an innocuous penalty decision to set the wheels in motion. Cologne's Henrique Sereno was deemed to have brought down Konstantin Rausch in the area, and Jan Schlauudraff passed the spot kick into the bottom corner of Michael Rensing's goal.
Senegalese signing Mame Biriam Diouf continued his impressive start in the Bundesliga, bagging a pair of goals in the latter stages to seal the three points for Hanover. The young striker, evidently relishing his chance in the starting lineup after years on the bench at Manchester United, has scored four goals in his first six matches for Hanover.
Diouf scored his first calmly on the counterattack, and later found himself unmarked in front of goal at a corner. Rensing - who got his fingertips to Diouf's header - was furious with his defenders, not for the first time this season, as he picked the ball out of the net.
Hanover's fight for European football continues, with the side moving back into seventh place in the table. Cologne, meanwhile, remain 13th - too close to the relegation zone for comfort at this late stage in the season.
Author: Mark Hallam
Editor: Nancy Isenson