In Saturday's round 15 action, Bayern completely destroyed their former rivals Bremen while Mönchengladbach beat Schalke. In the late match, Bayer Leverkusen narrowly beat Borussia Dortmund, whose injury woes deepened.
Dortmund were forced to leave Marco Reus, who has struggled with fitness, on the bench in the clash for second place. And perhaps because of his absence, the men in yellow and black lacked their customary incisiveness.
Dortmund had more of the ball early, but visitors Leverkusen drew found the back of the net in the 18th minute. Manuel Friedrich gave the ball away, and fleet-footed forward Heung-Min Son sprinted away and got service from Gonzalo Castro. It was the South Korean’s seventh goal of the season.
Leverkusen took the 1-0 lead into the dressing room, and such are Dortmund’s injury problems that coach Jürgen Klopp felt he could not substitute at the beginning of the second half. It would not be until the hour mark that Reus would get in the game. But Dortmund failed to generate a single clear goal chance, and to make matters worse, Sven Bender and Nuri Sahin had to be substituted after suffering ankle injuries.
Around ten minutes from time, Leverkusen’s Emir Spahic earned a red card for an unsportsmanlike foul. But the man advantage did not help the hosts, and Dortmund defender Sokratis was also sent off, for a second yellow card in the dying minutes. Reus had a late shot at an equalizer, but Leverkusen keeper Bernd Leno was on the ball.
With the 1-0 win, second-placed Leverkusen move six points clear of Dortmund, while in third, Klopp’s men are now level on points with fourth-placed Mönchengladbach. They hosted Schalke earlier in the day.
The signs were inauspicious for Schalke ahead of their match in Mönchengladbach. German newspapers were full of rumors that the Royal Blues' coach Jens Keller was a candidate for the axe, and the Foals sported a perfect record at home.
So the visitors were doubly glad to jump out to a lead on the quarter-hour mark. Julian Korb hauled down Kevin-Prince Boateng directly in front of goal, and Jefferson Farfan blasted in the spot kick.
Ten minutes later, however, a fine curling shot by Raffael - his eighth goal of the season - leveled things for Gladbach. And just before the break, Schalke captain Benedikt Höwedes handled the ball in the area, getting himself sent off with a second yellow and returning the favor of a penalty. Max Kruse did the honors, and the Foals took a 2-1 lead into the dressing room.
To Schalke's credit, they did not roll over in the second despite being a man down and Gladbach having a majority of possession and chances. But there was no change to the score, as the hosts ran out 2-1 winners.
The result solidifies the Foals' hold on fourth place and the final Champions League spot, moving them seven points clear of Schalke. It will also fuel further speculation that Keller's head is on the chopping block. After the match, Schalke sports director Horst Heldt refused to be drawn out by reporters on the subject.
"Those are really great questions," Heldt snarled. It's clear you have to ask them, but I'm not going to answers them."
Schalke will get a chance at redemption in their do-or-die Champions League match versus Basel on Wednesday.
The reigning champs boarded the bus and headed north to their former great rivals Werder Bremen. But the days when this was Germany's premier fixture are well and truly history, and it did not take long for Bayern to show why.
In the 22nd minute, Franck Ribery ran amok up the left-hand side and delivered a cross Bremen defender Assani Lukiya converted into an own goal.
Bayern were without Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Arjen Robben, who picked up a nasty flesh wound mid-week in the German Cup, but the Bavarian club's squad is so deep, even such prominent absences scarcely matter. Five minutes later Daniel van Buyten - usually a reserve - headed in to double Munich's lead.
On 38 minutes, Thomas Müller pushed up the right side and crossed in for Ribery, completely unmarked, to poke home. The only question left was how large Bayern's margin of victory would be.
The answer was seven. Mario Mandzukic, Thomas Müller, Ribery and Mario Götze all accepted the invitation to add insult to injury in the second half. The 7-0 drubbing is the worst home defeat ever for Bremen and is sure to increase pressure on coach Robin Dutt, who did his best to keep his cool.
“The loss is a shock, of course, but it won’t completely derail us,” Dutt said. “although we will be hearing a lot of public flak until our next match in Berlin.”