On a weekend when the Bundesliga title battle brimmed with excitement, Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich each did their homework ahead of a colossal coming together this weekend. There was also one more record for Thomas Müller while Deniz Undav and VfB Stuttgart proved they had truly refound their form. bundesliga.com looks back at the big talking points from a riveting few days ...
1. Title showdown looms large
And so focus switches to next weekend's monumental match-up: Bayer Leverkusen versus Bayern Munich. Both sides did their bit this weekend to ensure the gap at the top remained a razor-thin two points after Matchday 20.
Leaders Leverkusen - whose busy schedule includes Tuesday's DFB Cup quarter-final against Stuttgart - made sure of their victory at Darmstadt on Saturday thanks to Nathan Tella's well-taken double. With an eye on upcoming games, shrewd B04 boss Xabi Alonso started the match-winner ahead of the prolific Jeremie Frimpong while the coach's selection of midfield string-puller Granit Xhaka ultimately paid off.
Going into the encounter at the Merck-Stadion am Böllenfalltor, the Swiss international was in danger of picking a suspension having previously received four yellow cards. Yet Xhaka's discipline remained intact, meaning - barring a setback - he will be available to face Bayern next week. "We want to keep going; let's see how far (things will take us) but we don't want to stop," Alonso said after overseeing his team's 16th win in 20 Bundesliga games this season.
Watch: B04 get back to winning ways in Darmstadt
Defending champions Bayern will be desperate to bring their rivals' unbeaten run to end next week and Thomas Tuchel's side warmed up for that task with a 3-1 come-from-behind victory at home to Borussia Mönchengladbach. "We did our job; it was a decent performance against a tough opponent," the Bayern coach said after seeing Aleksandar Pavlović, Harry Kane and Matthijs de Ligt all hit the target after the Foals had taken a surprise lead.
Kane's opportunistic header brought his goals tally to 24 for the season, and took him to 29 goal involvements in the top flight. There was also a debut for new signing Sacha Boey as the Bavarians made it three Bundesliga wins on the bounce ahead of next weekend's showdown at the BayArena.
2. Majestic Müller adds one more milestone
What a player. The ageless Thomas Müller was back breaking and making records as he notched up an unprecedented 500th senior career win with his lifelong team Bayern. Yet far from taking to the field merely to collect accolades, the Raumdeuter was front and centre of a crucial victory for the record champions against Gladbach.
Chosen to start the game after Kingsley Coman sustained an injury last weekend, Müller was tireless in his efforts, popping up in all areas of the pitch as he fought to bring his side back into the contest following Nico Elvedi's 35th minute opener for the visitors.
An assist for Pavlović's equaliser, Müller's seventh of the season, preceded his menacing - yet completely legal - presence next to Gladbach goalkeeper Moritz Nicolas that led to Kane's header for 2-1. It was the 34-year-old's 690th appearance for Bayern, but it may just as well have been his first, for all the guile, verve and drive he brought to his team's cause.
There seems to be just no stopping the player who recently returned to international duty with Germany and records will surely continue to fall as long as Müller is on a football pitch.
3. Stuttgart and Undav provide more fireworks
After a recent run of three losses in four Bundesliga games and shorn of their top-scoring striker Serhou Guirassy - on Africa Cup of Nations duty with Guinea - Stuttgart's superb stay in the upper echelons of the standings appeared to be under threat. However, after highly impressive back-to-back victories, Sebastian Hoeneß's side are celebrating their place among the division's top three teams once more. An outstanding 5-2 Matchday 19 win against Leipzig - that included a Deniz Undav hat-trick - was followed with a first triumph in Freiburg since 2018.
Bursting out of the blocks at the Europa-Park Stadion, the Swabians were 2-0 up inside seven minutes against their flabbergasted hosts. UEFA EURO 2024 hopeful Undav and then Chris Führich (assisted by Undav) netted the goals that had Stuttgart supporters bouncing early on and after Merlin Röhl was dismissed shortly before the 20 minute mark, this was never going to be anything other than Stuttgart's day. Freiburg managed to grab a goal of their own before Maximilian Mittelstädt took advantage of yet another Undav assist to kick-start Stuttgart's top three party.
Speaking to his club's official website afterwards, the irrepressible Undav - who now has 17 Bundesliga goals involvements (13 goals, four assists) - said, "We made the most of the first two chances, then Freiburg got the sending off and that played into our hands. I'm pleased to have set up two goals." The 27-year-old is now joint-third in the Bundesliga top-scorer standings, four behind teammate Guirassy, who is due back at Stuttgart HQ soon. Next up for Die Schwaben is Tuesday's last-eight DFB Cup challenge against Leverkusen.
Watch: Pauli win a classic against fellow pormotion hopefuls Fürth
4. Record-equalling St. Pauli sitting pretty on top
The Kiezkickers' sensational second-division unbeaten run extended to a record-equalling 25 games as Fabian Hürzeler's side edged a superb top-of-the table clash against Greuther Fürth on Saturday. Pauli's 3-2 win came about thanks to an Elias Saad double strike either side of an Oladapo Afolayan goal and it meant that Fürth - in second place behind Pauli going into the game - suffered their first loss after nine games unbeaten. The result also meant that the Boys in Brown opened up a five-point lead at the top of the table, the widest gap there has been between first and second this season.
Pauli's result was all the more impressive given the team's midweek efforts and heartbreak in a DFB Cup loss on penalties against Fortuna Düsseldorf. "I'm very happy we've ended the week with a win; it was incredibly important;" explained goalscorer Afolayan. "We all knew that and it puts us in a really important position at this stage of the season." Next up for the Pauli express is next weekend's trip to Magdeburg and a shot at making a new unbeaten record in the division their own.
Watch: Leipzig beat Union Berlin on Sunday afternoon
5. There's life in Leipzig again
Having started 2024 with three consecutive defeats, one or two question marks were swirling around Leipzig. Die Roten Bullen provided a firm answer with a comfortable 2-0 win over Union Berlin on Sunday.
Creative genius Xavi Simons was back in the side after suspension and served up more glimpses of his ferocious talent, and with Dani Olmo also looking near the peak of his powers plus both Loïs Openda and Benjamin Šeško getting on the score sheet, Leipzig were simply too hot for Union to handle.
Coach Marco Rose was able to call on some familiar names to help steady the ship. Willi Orban started his first match in five months after injury while Péter Gulácsi kept goal for Leipzig for the first time since October 2022. Both were delighted with the clean sheet they contributed to.
With other results going their way this weekend (Dortmund and Frankfurt both dropping points) Leipzig are back on the heels of the top four - a point behind Dortmund in fifth - and with a healthy dose of restored confidence to take into their trip to Augsburg on Matchday 21.
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