Germany’s top flight saw a flurry of goals from Bayern and Leverkusen while Frankurt and Gladbach fortified their claims for a European spot with important wins. Down at the bottom, Augsburg and Hoffenheim suffered setbacks to their survival bid as 2.Bundesliga bound Greuther Fürth registered a surprise win in the Frankenderby. This and more in The Hard Tackle’s review of  match day 30 in the Bundesliga.

Frankfurt finally win to save their season

Schalke Eintracht Frankfurt

A costly loss for the Royal Blues

Just 1 win in their last 4 games, with 3 of their opponents making up the bottom 3 of the table does not make good reading for a team that has spent much of this season in the top five. Armin Veh’s Eagles have had a terrible start to 2013 picking up just 6 points in their last 9 games that has seen them slip down from the Champions League spots to the Europa league positions. But a vital win on Saturday against fellow contenders Schalke has rekindled Frankfurt’s chances of challenging for the top four.

A first half Marco Russ goal was enough for Frankfurt to hold on to 3 points at the Commerzbank-Arena as a wasteful Schalke squandered chance after chance in search of something to take back home. Oka Nikolov was the hero for the home side as the custodian put up an impressive performance to keep Schalke’s attackers at bay.

Matmour, Celozzi, Russ made returns for the home side and young Stendera made his first start as Armin Veh fielded a 4-2-3-1 against Schalke. The visitors were without the unfit Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and started Ciprian Marica upfront with Bastos, Raffael and Draxler behind him.

With only 4 points separating the two sides and a Champions league spot still open, the game kicked off on a lively note with both teams looking to assert their dominance from the middle of the pitch. As the game progressed the center of pitch became more and more crowded as both sides played a tight and narrow game and it became clearer that wing-play will decide the tie. The visitors had the first clear-cut chance when Bastos squared up a ball for Höger who missed connecting with the ball by inches inside the box. Bastos was involved again as he fired in a shot minutes later only for Nikolov to parry it away. Nikolov proved to be Frankfurt’s saviour again as he kept out Bastos’s penalty and pulled off another save from Marica to keep things level.

At the other end, much of the home side’s offense came from their Japanese star Takashi Inui and young Stendera. Both were unlucky not to put their side in the lead with Stendera first finding the cross bar and then Inui being denied by Hildebrand. Schalke would come to rue their missed opportunities as minutes before the break Marco Russ nodded in a free kick to give the hosts the lead.

Schalke came out all cylinders firing in the second period in search for an equalizer. Teemu Pukki, introduced in place of Marica, was proving to be the factor the visitors were missing in the first half. He combined well with Draxler and Bastos, and it was once again the brilliance of Nikolov that denied Schalke any reward. Draxler was denied twice and the ball was literally stolen out of Pukki’s feet as the custodian pulled off yet another brilliant save. The introduction of Jones and Barnetta made no difference as Frankfurt decided to shut shop with some deep defending and occasional counters.

Jens Keller’s men will definitely lament their missed chances and though they retain their 4th position in the table, will know that both Frieburg and Frankfurt are only a point away from overtaking them.

Hamburg and Gladbach move in the right direction

Hamburg

The Dutchman had his goalscoring boots on against Fortuna

Talisman Rafael van der Vaart scored a brace to allow Hamburg to take all 3 points against visitors Fortuna Düsseldorf which sees the Rothosen move up to 8th and level on points with Gladbach. Düsseldorf came into the game with no wins in 7 games. After starting out their first five games without conceding a single goal or losing, Fortuna have recently seen an alarming slump in form which sees them 15th in the table and only 3 points away from the relegation play-off spot.

It was always going to be a difficult task for Norbert Meier and things weren’t made any easier on the pitch as Dutch International van der Vaart headed home a Marcel Jansen cross to give the home team the lead on the 14th minute. 6 minutes later, it was the Dutchman again who jinxed his way past couple of defenders before coolly slotting to find the back of the net. Thorsten Fink’s men then seemed content to play out the match absorbing the increasing pressure Fortuna were applying. Düsseldorf did get a goal back late towards the end of play but wasn’t enough for them to salvage a point. Fortuna will consider themselves lucky to stay clear off relegation after both Augsburg and Hoffenheim lost their respective games. Norbert Meier will be well aware that his side has to pick up their game if they want a stress-less finish to the season and stay in the top flight.

Borussia Mönchengladbach got back into Europa League contention after they earned a hard fought victory over relegation threatened Augsburg. Starting out brightly, the home team was once again guilty of not taking their chances with Herrmann and Arango teasing the Augsburg defense. Gladbach went ahead courtesy of a Filip Daems spot kick after Peniel Mlapa was brought down by Kevin Vogt. Reduced to 10 men, the visitors found it difficult to get things going and even though they were helped by some sloppy shooting by Gladbach’s attackers, failed to find the equalizer. The result will see a disappointed Fortuna sitting in the relegation play-off spot while Markus Weinzierl will know his side have to put in a more spirited performance next week when they take on the men in Yellow and Black.

Bayern and Bayer entertain crowd

Newly crowned champions Bayern Munich had the perfect practice to their crunch game against Barcelona later this week as they shipped out 6 goals yet again with Hannover suffering this time around. Jupp Heynckes once again had the liberty to rest some his regular starters as skipper Lahm, his deputy Schweinsteiger, midfielder Martinez and center-back Dante sat out the game. Mario Gomez led the attack with Ribery, Pizarro and Muller behind him in their standard 4-2-3-1 formation.

From the onset it was clear Hannover would struggle to keep up with the high tempo and pressing that the Bavarians dish out so well. In spite of the dominance and chances created, an own goal from Lars Stindl gave Bayern the lead. That start was enough for the rampant Bavarians as they scored two more before the break. Claudio Pizarro was the architect for both as he fed Ribery and Gomez for the 2nd and 3rd respectively. With the game against Barcelona on their mind, Ribery and Müller gave way to Robben and Swiss wonder-kid Shaqiri at the start of the second period. Another goal for Gomez and a brace from Pizarro put the game to bed.

Bayer Leverkusen scored one less but put up an equally impressive performance against struggling Hoffenheim at the Bay Arena on Saturday. Braces from Stefan Kießling and Chelsea target Andre Schürrle were enough to allow Leverkusen to take all 3 points and strengthen their hold on 3rd place in the table. 17th placed Hoffenheim have had glimmers of hope of surviving in recent weeks under new coach Markus Gisdol registering an impressive win over Frankfurt on matchday 28 and a draw against Wolfsburg on matchday 29.

The visitors started off on a bad note with influential midfielder Eugen Polanski seeing red early in the second half. Even though Simon Rolfes squandered the resulting penalty kick it was only a matter of time before Leverkusen stamped their authority. A goal from Kießling in the first period and 3 quick ones after the break put the result beyond doubt. Hoffenheim now remain glued to 17th place with 24 points from 30 games. Time is running out fast for the village based club.

Elsewhere

Werder Bremen 0 – 3 VfLWolfsburg; Borussia Dortmund 2 – 0 Mainz; VfB Stuttgart 2-1 SC Freiburg; Nürnberg 0 -1 GreutherFürth

Random Five

• With 81 points from 30 games, Bayern have now equaled Dortmund’s record of maximum points attained in a season. And they still have to play 4 more games!

• Claudio Pizarro’s brace against Hannover was the 31st of his career in the Bundesliga

• Nürnberg and Greuther Fürth played their 256 Frankenderby this Sunday. This is the highest number for any derby in Germany.

• Robert Lewandowski has now scored 12 goals in 12 consecutive games.

• Oka Nikolov, Frankfurt’s custodian and hero against Schalke has been at the club since 1991.

Pick of the Week

Oka Nikolov – The 38 year old Macedonian keeper was Frankfurt’s saviour and hero of the day against Schalke. A one club man, Nikolov has played 371 games for the club in the league. He must had a number of great games for his club, but he probably played the greatest of his career against the Royal Blues in which he was single handedly responsible for keeping Frankfurt in the game. A penalty save and six brilliant saves from open play says it all.

Flop of the Week

Sebastian Prödl – Both Sebastian Prödl of Werder Bremen and Christian Schulz of Hannover had horrid games against Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich respectively. But it is probably wiser to go easy on Schulz simply because he was against Bayern Munich. Prödl on the other hand was up against a side that has scored 38 goals this season. Wolfsburg stormed into the lead through Maximilian Arnold in the 17th minute and Ivica Olic in the 23rd minute. Both goals coming off some bad defending by Bremen with Sebastian Prödl their center-piece.

Goal of the Week

 Andre Schürrle’s second goal for Leverkusen in their thrashing of Hoffenheim is our choice for goal of the week for matchday 30