Matchday 21 saw some seismicity on both ends of the league table, as Schalke closed in on Champions League football with a win at Leverkusen, while Braunschweig shocked Hamburg to move within three points of escaping the drop zone. This and more, in THT’s Bundesliga review.

Schalke close in on top three with win over Leverkusen

With three consecutive wins since the season restart, Schalke 04 are now firmly in the mix for Champions League football, as only three points now separate fourth place from second. A 2-1 victory over Leverkusen at the BayArena this weekend underscored Schalke’s jubilant form. The hapless hosts, meanwhile, are enduring a miserable week on their own home turf.

Leverkusen needed a confidence boost after a home exit to 2.Bundesliga side Kaiserslautern in the DFB-Pokal midweek. Against Schalke, they started brightly. An early goal was ruled offside for Leverkusen, but Stefan Kiessling, Heung-Min Son, and Sebastian Boenisch all had their chances to get the opening goal.

It was not to be, however. In the 28th minute Leon Goretzka stole the home side’s thunder with a superb solo effort, outwitting Bender and Wollscheid before cooly chipping the ball over Leno to give Schalke the lead going into halftime.

Schalke had the psychological advantage thanks to Goretzka’s opener, but Leverkusen weren’t quite done yet. The home side got back into it after the break. Again it was Boenisch, Son and Kiessling in the mix; the two forwards set up Boenisch beautifully, but the left-back failed to beat Ralf Fährmann at the last. In the end it was Fährmann’s own defender who spoiled what might have been a heroic clean sheet for the young keeper: in the 66th minute Felipe Santana stuck out an inopportune knee, right in the path of Gonzalo Castro’s corner, and diverted the ball into his own net.

Despite this stroke of fortune, Leverkusen would come to rue their profligacy as Castro and Kiessling missed two more chances to put the home side ahead. With a quarter of an hour remaining, the visitors got a set piece from a dangerous position; Farfan took the kick, and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar met it head on: 1-2 Schalke.

Completely against the run of play, it would prove to be the match decider, despite Simon Rolfes’ vicious 90th minute effort. Fährmann capped a match-winning performance with a final spectacular save to deny Rolfes, and Schalke moved to within touching distance of Leverkusen in the league table.

Kumbela fires Braunschweig past HSV in relegation six-pointer

A clash of fortunes was on the cards at Eintracht-Stadion last Saturday. Visitors Hamburger SV, the only side to have maintained top-flight status throughout the league’s history, versus Eintracht Braunschweig, who have only just returned to Bundesliga status this season after 28 years of absence. With the two sides languishing in 17th and 18th places respectively, Bert van Marwijk called this encounter HSV’s “biggest game” of the season.

HSV had failed to score since the new year began, but Pierre-Michel Lasogga quickly put an end to that worrying trend with a first-half goal. However, the visitors’ relief would be turned on its head after the restart. Nightmare errors from Rene Adler and his defense allowed half-time substitute Domi Kumbela to get two goals within 10 minutes, making it the first time all season that The Lions had overcome a 1-0 deficit.

Ivo Ilicevic momentarily redeemed HSV with an equalizer in the the 76th minute, before Adler again bungled a set piece and allowed Kumbela to get his hat-trick. HSV scrabbled to come up with another equalizer. But it was for nought: Jan Hochscheidt tapped in the home side’s fourth goal just before the whistle went, and it was Braunschweig 4, HSV 2.

In a match punctuated by no fewer than eleven yellow cards, Braunschweig can walk away with a result that is all the sweeter given their opponents’ relative position in the table. The Bundesliga’s season-long footstools, Braunschweig are now just one point behind HSV, and three behind Freiburg, who currently occupy the play-off spot. The Lions have a long way yet to go, but this year’s relegation candidates are far from foregone.

Elsewhere in the Bundesliga…

Mainz 2-0 Hannover, Bayern 4-0 Freiburg, Dortmund 4-0 Eintracht Frankfurt, Bremen 1-1 Gladbach, Hoffenheim 4-1 Stuttgart, Augsburg 0-1 Nuremberg, Hertha Berlin 1-2 Wolfsburg

Random Five

Domi Kumbela is only the 7th Bundesliga player to have scored a hat-trick after coming on a substitute.

FC Nuremberg kept their first away clean sheet of the campaign in a 1-0 win over Augsburg.

Freiburg failed to get a single shot on goal against Bayern on Saturday.

With Bayern’s victory over Freiburg, Claudio Pizarro becomes the only active Bundesliga player to have won 200 matches.

As of Matchday 21, Daniel Baier (Augsburg) and Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg) are the only outfield players to have played all 1890 minutes this season.

Goal of the Week

Leon Goretzka takes the accolades this week with this cool, controlled solo effort to put Schalke up 1-0 at the BayArena. Pure class from the 19-year-old midfielder.