Munich - FC Schalke 04 slipped to third in the table after drawing at home to fellow high-fliers Eintracht Frankfurt, while the spoils were also shared in Wolfsburg, who failed to get the better of SV Werder Bremen. The Franconian derby between Greuther Fürth and 1. FC Nuremberg likewise ended in a stalemate after a gritty encounter.
Neither Schalke nor Frankfurt have been in particularly sparkling form of late, but once the match got going it was clear to see why they were FC Bayern Munich's closest challengers. The guests were clearly fired up and twice went close with half chances within the first few minutes. However, Schalke quickly found their stride and took the lead thanks to a rapier-like counterattack. Lewis Holtby recovered the ball in midfield and played a delightful through ball to Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who had no trouble finding the net.
Their advantage didn't last long though, as Frankfurt hit back immediately. The host's backline appeared to still be savouring Huntelaar's smart finish when Bastian Oczipka's cross came into the box, allowing Stefan Aigner to head in unmarked. Sensing weakness, the visitors continued to probe Schalke's defence, which was looking uncharacteristically shaky, but they were unable to break through again before half time.
The Eagles were left ruing what might have been, as Schalke re-emerged with renewed vigour from the changing room and immediately sought to go in front. Jefferson Farfan and Christian Fuchs enjoyed the run of the flanks and peppered the Frankfurt box with dangerous crosses aimed at Huntelaar, but the Dutchman could not convert any of them.
Gradually, the hosts began to get frustrated at their inability to forge an opening and the intensity of their attacks waned. Frankfurt's defensive solidity had stood them in good stead, but they laboured to string any moves together in Schalke's half. With the clocking ticking down, the home team still looked the more likely to find the net again, camped as they were in Frankfurt's half. Yet for all their possession, there was no final product and both teams had to settle for a point.
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Against the backdrop of new Wolfsburg sporting director Klaus Allofs taking his place in the dugout for the visit of former club Werder Bremen, the two sides took to the field in somewhat tentative fashion. The visitors showed a marginally greater attacking threat early on, with Marko Arnautovic teeing up Nils Petersen for the afternoon’s first effort on goal.
Wolfsburg sprung to life ten minutes before the break as Bas Dost rose unchallenged to direct a downward header onto the foot of the post, but in Arnautovic, Bremen had a man very much in the mood and it was no surprise to see the Austrian livewire help himself to the opener, after some fine wing play from Eljero Elia.
Thomas Schaaf's men appeared to be in control, but a second yellow card to Lukas Schmitz changed the face of the game with half an hour to go, and Wolfsburg took full advantage as Dost bagged his fifth of the campaign.
Diego saw a close-range effort cleared off the line moments later, but it was Aaron Hunt who went closest to winning it for the away side, with his free kick coming back off the upright late on.
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Local pride, as well as three valuable points, were at stake in the oldest derby of them all in Germany. Given that the two teams had mustered just four wins and twenty goals between them all season prior to kick-off, there was an air of inevitability about the hard-fought but disjointed opening. Full-blooded tackles were the order of the day, with neither able get anywhere near the opposing goal.
Nuremberg's Markus Feulner, scorer of a stunner last week against Bayern Munich, let the heat of the battle get the better of him and was sent off shortly before half time for an ill-timed lunge at Stephan Fürtsner. The hosts were unable to make the most of their numerical advantage prior to the break, as Nuremberg shut up shop, hoping to reorganise during the interval.
Visiting coach Dieter Hecking logically instructed his team to sit deep after the restart, though their efforts going forward, limited entirely to counterattacks, now had more of an edge of determination about them. Another tactical readjustment was required just 15 minutes into the second period though, as Fürth's Sercan Sararer was given his marching orders for dangerous foul play.
Nevertheless, it did little to change the course of proceedings, with both teams too cautious going forward, determined not to get caught out at the back with the extra space now on offer. It was therefore no surprise that the match ended goalless, with goalmouth action almost non-existent throughout. The result did little to help either side, although both can take consolation at having kept a rare clean sheet.
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