BERLIN – Schalke, Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayer Leverkusen all recorded wins on Saturday in the Bundesliga as the race for second place showed no signs of slowing down.
A first-half Marko Pjaca goal was enough to give Schalke a 1-0 win at home to stuffy Hertha Berlin and move them up to second on 43 points, while Frankfurt’s Danny da Costa scored the only goal at home to Hanover to move his side a point behind the Royal Blues in third.
A gem of a goal from Julian Brandt sealed a 2-1 win for Leverkusen away to Wolfsburg as they move fifth, level on 41 points with fourth-placed Borussia Dortmund, who play RB Leipzig in Saturday’s late game.
Relegation-threatened SV Hamburg were desperate for all three points as they looked to make up a seven-point deficit on visitors Mainz, but they could only draw 0-0. Hoffenheim eased to a 2-0 win in Augsburg.
Schalke coach Domenico Tedesco continues to work wonders with his team, who picked up their third win on the trot thanks to a 37th-minute strike from Juventus loanee Pjaca to edge ahead of arch-rivals Dortmund.
But Tedesco felt a weak second half could have cost his team.
“It was enormously important to play cleverly today,” he said. “We did that before the break. But the second half was very poor... We hardly won a second ball... There’s a lot of work to do.”
Niko Kovac has done a similar job of galvanizing Frankfurt, and Danny da Costa’s close-range strike on 39 minutes kept them in the hunt for second.
The video assistant referee (VAR) team was due some credit for their win after they rescinded a penalty for a foul on Hanover’s Miiko Albornoz and instructed the referee to book the substitute for diving.
And Kovac felt his team had learned from last week’s surprise defeat to Stuttgart.
“After Stuttgart, I told the team clearly what wasn’t good,” he said. “The boys reacted positively and showed a good mentality.”
In Wolfsburg, a Lucas Alario penalty gave Leverkusen a first-half lead, which Brandt extended on 78 minutes with a sumptuous dink over the keeper after a neat exchange with Alario.
Admir Mehmedi responded instantly with a long-range strike for Wolfsburg but Leverkusen held on to keep pace with the pack in the chase for the runners-up spot and ruin Bruno Labbadia’s home debut as Wolfsburg coach.
Filip Kostic had a nightmare for Hamburg, who played out an excruciating goalless draw against Mainz to sink deeper into relegation trouble.
That was an intense afternoon of football! pic.twitter.com/oV4jRG7vdU
With a tough away fixture next week against Bayern Munich, Hamburg were desperate to claim all three points here to cut the deficit on the visitors, who sit seven points above them in the relegation playoff spot.
Kostic had a first-half goal chalked off for offside after consultation with the VAR and then missed a second-half penalty as Hamburg failed to turn their dominance into goals.
The result leaves beleaguered Hamburg coach Bernd Hollerbach still without a win from his six games in charge since replacing Markus Gisdol.
“It’s not a great moment for us today,” he said. “Basically, the only thing that was missing was a key moment. We gave everything. I really feel for the team. And for the fans.”
Hoffenheim claimed an important win in the fight for the Europa League spots with an easy 2-0 win at toothless Augsburg.
Andrej Kramaric’s eighth of the season put them ahead on the half-hour and a well-worked Serge Gnabry goal on 50 minutes clinched the three points.
The win sees Hoffenheim go seventh, three points clear of Augsburg, who are badly missing the goals of injured Alfred Finnbogasson. The hosts have now scored just once in their last four games.