Robert Lewandowski’s 25th goal of the season gave Bayern Munich a 1-0 win at Cologne on Saturday as the Bundesliga leaders moved eight points clear of Borussia Dortmund once again at the top of the table.
The Poland star, the Bundesliga’s leading scorer, fired home in the 10th minute after Dominique Heintz blocked a Thiago Alcantara pass and the ball fell into his path.
That was enough for a Bayern side showing numerous changes from their dramatic midweek Champions League victory over Juventus, with coach Pep Guardiola leaving the likes of Thomas Mueller, Franck Ribery and Philipp Lahm on the bench.
While it was not a vintage display by the Bavarian giants, they were rarely troubled by mid-table Cologne, although Anthony Modeste came close to equalizing for the hosts a quarter of an hour from the end.
Manuel Neuer came out to deny the French forward but could not hold the ball and Modeste got a second bite, only for David Alaba to make a crucial block.
Neuer also intervened to deny Leonardo Bittencourt with the last kick of the game at the RheinEnergieStadion.
“It was hard to play two and a half days after a game against Juventus that was mentally draining,” said Guardiola.
“On the whole we controlled the game well, but we saw once again how difficult it is to defend in the Bundesliga this year.”
Second-placed Dortmund will get the chance to reduce the gap back to five points when they go to Augsburg on Sunday, but coach Thomas Tuchel is waiting to see whether Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be available for the game.
Aubameyang, who has scored 35 goals this season including 22 in the Bundesliga, is a doubt following the death of his grandfather.
– Hero Haraguchi –
Meanwhile, Hertha Berlin remain on course to qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 1999/2000 after a 2-1 victory over Ingolstadt in the capital.
All the goals came in the second half at the Olympiastadion, with Japanese international winger Genki Haraguchi scoring one goal and making another for Pal Dardai’s side.
Haraguchi arrived at the near post to turn in a left-wing cross by Marvin Plattenhardt and give Hertha the lead in the 54th minute.
He then turned provider on 69 minutes, crossing from the right for Salomon Kalou to net his 13th Bundesliga goal of the campaign at the back post.
Substitute Lukas Hinterseer pulled one back for Ingolstadt, but Hertha held on and are once again four points clear of Schalke 04 in third, the final automatic qualifying berth for next season’s Champions League.
Schalke beat Borussia Moenchengladbach 2-1 on Friday thanks to a late Leon Goretzka winner, while Mainz lost ground after drawing 1-1 at Werder Bremen on Saturday.
Julian Baumgartlinger gave Mainz the lead at the Weserstadion but then conceded a penalty in first-half stoppage time when he brought down Zlatko Junuzovic.
Veteran Peruvian striker Claudio Pizarro stepped up to score his 12th league goal of the campaign from the spot and ensure a share of the spoils.
Wolfsburg, who will face Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-finals next month, continue to struggle for consistency and needed a last-minute Andre Schuerrle equalizer to grab a 1-1 draw at home to Darmstadt.
Looking for a first win in seven games, Darmstadt went ahead through Sandro Wagner’s 11th of the season seven minutes from time but Schuerrle denied the visitors as Wolfsburg remain eighth.
In the battle to avoid relegation, Hoffenheim claimed a precious 3-1 win at Hamburg to make it four victories from just seven games under 28-year-old coach Julian Nagelsmann.
Andrej Kramaric, on loan from Leicester City, put Hoffenheim ahead from the penalty spot and Kevin Volland doubled their lead midway through the first half.
Aaron Hunt pulled one back for Hamburg with a penalty but Eduardo Vargas came off the bench to make sure of the win for the visitors in the second half.
Hoffenheim move out of the two automatic relegation places and trail Augsburg only on goal difference before the Bavarians take on Dortmund on Sunday.
The bottom two meet later as Eintracht Frankfurt host Hanover 96 in Niko Kovac’s first home game in charge since replacing the sacked Armin Veh.