Berlin: Bayern Munich maintained their 17-point lead in the Bundesliga on Sunday, racking up their 20th league win from 24 games this season after labouring to a 1-0 win at strugglers Hoffenheim.
Bayern claimed their 10th straight victory thanks to Germany striker Mario Gomez’s first-half winner.
Although 47 points separate the two teams in the table, Hoffenheim, second from bottom, worked hard to contain the off-form league leaders before succumbing to their 16th league defeat of the season.
They have won now only one of their last 14 games, including two draws and suffered 11 defeats and face a relegation dogfight of a duel next weekend against bottom club Greuther Fuerth.
Bayern produced a subdued display, despite knocking holders Borussia Dortmund out of the German Cup last Wednesday, with coach Jupp Heynckes admitting his team were off colour.
“The game was very difficult because of the opponent’s league predicament,” said Heynckes.
“We had to work hard for the win, it wasn’t brilliant or glamorous, but in return for 90 minutes work, we got three points.
“We were a bit superficial, we weren’t direct enough and not lively enough. It took a while to warm up the engine.”
Heynckes made five changes from the team which beat Dortmund with reserve goalkeeper Tom Stark starting for Manuel Neuer and Gomez starting for Mario Mandzukic.
Swiss star Xherdan Shaqiri took Toni Kroos’ place in the centre of midfield, Germany’s Jerome Boateng started at centre-back for Belgium’s Daniel van Buyten.
France star Franck Ribery took his place on the left wing from Arjen Robben, left out of the matchday squad despite scoring Wednesday’s winner.
Hoffenheim made a bright start and contained Bayern’s attack until the 38th minute.
Midfielder Igor de Camargo’s mistimed pass was snapped up by Bayern’s Boateng, who fired in a cross for Ribery to head back across goal to Gomez, who rolled his shot past goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes.
Germany midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger clattered the crossbar twice with shots as Bayern pushed for the goal which would have put the game beyond doubt.
On Saturday, hosts Borussia Dortmund warmed up for Tuesday’s Champions League clash at home to Shakhtar Donetsk with a 3-1 win over Hanover 96 to stay second.
Poland striker Robert Lewandowski netted twice having only been allowed to play on Friday after the German Football Association (DFB) reduced his three-match ban.
Bayer Leverkusen remain third, just a point behind Dortmund, after scoring twice in the last eight minutes to come from behind for a 2-1 win at home to VfB Stuttgart.
Schalke, who host Dortmund in next Saturday’s Ruhr derby, are up to sixth after they beat Wolfsburg 4-1 with 19-year-old man-of-the-match Julian Draxler scoring two and setting up one.
The Royal Blues are still in Champions League contention after their last 16, first leg 2-2 draw at Galatasaray with the return in Gelsenkirchen on March 12.
Bremen suffered their third straight defeat, dropping to 13th, after they suffered a 1-0 win at home to Augsburg, who remain third from bottom, while Nuremberg moved up to 12th with a 1-1 draw at home against Freiburg.
Hamburg drop to seventh after their 1-1 draw at home against bottom side Fuerth.
On Friday, Moechengladbach picked up their first win in seven games thanks to Dutch striker Luuk de Jong’s goal with a 1-0 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt, who remain fourth despite having now gone five games without scoring.