Berlin, Dec 12: Bayern Munich extended its lead in the Bundesliga to three points on Sunday after Mario Gomez scored twice in a 2-1 victory over 10-man Stuttgart and title rival Borussia Dortmund drew 1-1 with Kaiserslautern.
“No one was expecting Dortmund to drop points, but we've won our match so it's been a good day,” Bayern winger Arjen Robben said.
Gomez took his season tally to a league-leading 15 by scoring in the 13th and 57th minutes, after Christian Gentner had put the home side ahead in the sixth minute.
Christian Molinaro was sent off in the 29th for bringing down Robben, five minutes after earning his first yellow card for another bad tackle on the Dutchman.
The victory virtually crowned Bayern ‘winter champions', an unofficial title given to the Bundesliga's top club ahead of the four-week winter break. With one more round to play this year, Dortmund would have to turn around a deficit of three points and goal difference of 10 to deny Bayern the prize.
“We're winter champions,” Bayern president Uli Hoeness said. “What more can I say?”
As for the match, Stuttgart captain Gentner pointed to Molinaro's red card as the turning point.
“It was clear that Bayern had the game under control through the sending off,” he said. “We had one or another chances but somehow couldn't equalize. But we don't need to discuss whether Bayern were the better team.”
Gomez should have scored against his former side in the fifth minute, when Robben rounded the keeper before playing it across the empty goal, only for the 26-year-old striker to miss the ball.
Gentner scored 40 seconds later when Martin Harnik nodded down Molinaro's cross for the midfielder to volley in from 10 meters (yards).
However, Gomez made amends when he got ahead of Molinaro to deflect Rafinha's cross past the helpless Sven Ulreich.
Ulreich produced a stunning one-handed save to stop Thomas Mueller's deflected shot in the 25th, and the visitors were given a boost when Molinaro was sent off four minutes later.
“He tries to play the ball and he gets the ball,” Stuttgart sporting director Fredi Bobic said. “If these theatrics weren't in it, he wouldn't have been set off.”
Gomez eventually scored the goal which Bayern's pressure deserved when Philipp Lahm cut the ball back for the striker to drill a shot into the right corner.
“We played really good football for 70 minutes and of course we were also inspired by Dortmund's result,” Gomez said.
Bayern is top with 34 points, ahead of Dortmund and Schalke on 31 points, with fourth-place Borussia Moenchengladbach on 30.
Olcay Sahan's spectacular equalizer for Kaiserslautern at Dortmund earlier Sunday had given Bayern its chance to go three points clear, with fellow challenger Moenchengladbach having lost 1-0 to Augsburg on Saturday.
Sahan struck his first ever Bundesliga goal on the hour mark with a crisp volley over his shoulder and into the right corner, canceling out Shinji Kagawa's 27th-minute opener and lifting Kaiserslautern out of the relegation zone to 15th.
Dortmund coach Juergen Klopp brought on Mario Goetze six minutes later and the 19-year-old playmaker almost struck the winner in the 82nd with a fierce shot that hit the crossbar. It was the third time Dortmund struck the crossbar or post.
“Kaiserslautern earned their luck,” Klopp said. “If Sahan hadn't scored the goal of the month then it would have gone very well for us.”
Ilkay Guendogan set up Kagawa to dispatch a shot to the left corner despite being surrounded by Kaiserslautern defenders. The Japan midfielder fired narrowly wide three minutes later.
“Other teams don't have the guts to play here. I'm simply proud of this team,” Kaiserslautern captain Christian Tiffert said.