Munich - SV Werder Bremen wrap up consecutive league wins for the first time since November 2011 to move up to 11th place in the Bundesliga after beating VfB Stuttgart on Bundesliga Matchday 21. Elsewhere there were important victories for VfL Wolfsburg and Hannover 96, while high-flying Eintracht Frankfurt only managed a goalless draw at home to 1. FC Nuremberg.
Stuttgart's terrible start to the New Year continued as they were humbled by a vibrant Bremen side, for whom Mehmet Ekici scored the pick of the goals with a stunning free-kick.
Bruno Labbadia's Stuttgart had rung in 2013 with three straight league defeats but began the game in determined fashion. Japanese international Hiroki Sakai looped an effort over the crossbar within two minutes, before Bremen's Florian Mielitz smartly held a shot from Ibrahima Traore.
Bremen had a spring in their step after last week's win over Hannover 96, though, and they soon established a foothold on the game. The pace of Eljero Elia was a real weapon on the counter and the Dutch winger almost set up the opening goal when Kevin de Bruyne sidefooted his cross onto the post. However, the hosts luck ran out not long afterwards, as Ekici poked a hopeful foot at de Bruyne's driven delivery to open the scoring.
Traore had been one of the home side's more dynamic players throughout the opening period and it didn't take him long to leave his mark on the game after the restart. Christian Genter's cross was only half-cleared, allowing the Guinean international to produce an acrobatic volley to level things. Parity did not last long, though, as William Kvist's error allowed Aaron Hunt to restore Werder's lead.
Ekici had shown the flashes of quality all game and produced a moment of magic to kill off the VfB challenge, curling a delightful free-kick in off the crossbar to leave Ulreich grasping at thin air. A very satisfying afternoon was then completed moments before the end as de Bruyne burst clear to coolly chip Ulreich for the fourth, giving Thomas Schaaf's men their first away win of the calendar year.
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Mame Diouf's early goal was enough to earn Hannover 96 all three points against a spirited Hoffenheim at the AWD-Arena.
The visitors had gone into the game confidently after beating SC Freiburg for their first win in 2013 last weekend, but their defensive vulnerabilities manifested themselves as they fell behind just eight minutes in. Szabolcs Huszti far too much time to pick out a cross from the left and after Mathieu Delpierre hesitated, Mame Diouf beat Heurelho Gomes to the ball to head home his ninth league goal of the season.
Marco Kurz's charges showed a positive reaction to going behind, however, and they were arguably the better side for the remainder of the first half. Takashi Usami was his predictably busy self on the wing and his dangerous cross almost set up a leveller for Igor de Camargo. Kevin Volland and Tobias Weis then tested Ron-Robert Zieler with pot-shots from outside the box, as the home side went in at the break with a slightly fortuitous lead.
With no changes made at half-time, the patter of the game remained much the same, with Hoffenheim controlling possession and Hannover looking to catch their opponents on the break. Just before the hour-mark they constructed their best move of the match as Sofian Chahed's pass allowed Huszti a shot at goal, but the Hungarian's fizzing effort sailed wide of the post.
Disappointingly for Hoffenheim, they showed very little in the way of an attacking threat. Eugen Polanski tested Zieler from distance and Roberto Firmino had a free-kick well saved, but there looked to be no danger for a Hannover defence that had conceded eight goals in its last three matches. In a desperately frustrating last few minutes, Joselu stumbled over the ball when well positioned, ending any chance of Kurz's men taking something back with them to Sinsheim.
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Japanese trio Hiroshi Kiyotake, Takashi Inui and Mu Kanazaki assembled at the Commerzbank-Arena, where Eintracht Frankfurt and 1. FC Nuremberg played out a tightly-contested goalless draw.
Eintracht had won five of the six games in which coach Armin Veh named an unchanged starting XI following a victory, so it was no surprise to see the Eagles line up as they were after the Matchday 20 win in Hamburg. Stefan Aigner was his usual sprightly self in the engine room, but the snowy conditions got the better of the midfielder as well as several of his team-mates in a stilted first half.
The visitors carried a more obvious threat, with Kiyotake pulling the strings and very nearly serving up an opener. The Japanese international displayed great composure to slot the ball through his marker's legs, before teeing up Tomas Pekhart, whose sizzling drive was well saved by Eagles goalkeeper Kevin Trapp. Pekhart was on the receiving end of another fine Kiyotake pass later in the half, but was unable to direct his header on target.
Everything for the visitors was going through the lively Kiyotake, but not to be outdone by his Japanese compatriot, Eintracht's Inui took the bull by the horns at the start of the second half, firing an effort straight at Rafael Schäfer. Frustrations were beginning to creep in on both sides, though, with clear-cut chances proving unbelievably hard to come by as the game wore on.
Not even the prolific Alexander Meier could turn the tide in his side's favour, with Schäfer again equal to the task to deny the towering forward a 13th Bundesliga goal of the season. Nuremberg's Kanazaki missed out on the opportunity to join his far eastern representatives on the field of play, but it was nevertheless a pleasing performance from the Franconian side in their bid to avoid the drop.
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Bas Dost grabbed his eighth Bundesliga goal of the season as VfL Wolfsburg recorded a well-earned win against cellar-dwellers Greuther Fürth.
Wolfsburg conductor Diego kept the home side busy early on, and it was his invention that forced the opening goal of the afternoon. The Brazilian's slide-rule pass found the feet of Vieirinha, who stroked across the face of goal for Dost to steal a march on three green and white shirts and ram home the opener.
Chasing a game for the third time this calendar year, Fürth's route one approach proved fruitless, with Wolfsburg more than happy to swarm target man Gerald Asamoah and build from the back. Diego was inevitably involved whenever the Wolves did venture forward, but Dieter Hecking's men almost paid the price for momentarily switching off as Nikola Djurdjic warmed the palms of Diego Benaglio.
Djurdjic was on the receiving end of an even more presentable opportunity after the restart, but could only send a tame drive straight at the keeper. For all their endeavour, Fürth were largely restricted to speculative shots from range, with Edgar Prib chancing his arm with a dipping effort past the post in the 70th minute.
Wolfsburg's performance was professional if nothing else, and with the Fürth legs tiring, the patient Wolves looked by far the more likely to add to their tally. Second-half substitute Ivica Olic struck on the turn, before Dost tried his luck with two minutes left on the clock to no avail. The win puts breathing space between Wolfsburg and the bottom three, but leaves Fürth floundering, twelve points behind 15th-placed Fortuna Düsseldorf.
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Bernie Reeves and Christopher Mayer-Lodge