Dortmund keep Bayern honest; Stuttgart stay red hot

Borussia Dortmund’s 1-0 win over Hannover was hard-fought, but it temporarily cuts the gap at the top down to five points before Bayern Munich is in action at Augsburg on Sunday (live, FS2, FOX Sports Go, 11:30 a.m. ET). Henrikh Mkhitaryan fired the winner in the second half — his eighth goal of the season — increasing their cushion on second-place to 13 points over Bayer Leverkusen and Hertha Berlin who are level on points.

Top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang suffered a knock as Dortmund qualified for the semifinals of the DFB-Pokal midweek, and was replaced by Shinji Kagawa who returned from a spell out of the squad. Neven Subotic and Gonzalo Castro returned to the side to freshen things up ahead of European action next week.

Marco Reus, in good form of late, saw his 25-yard free-kick strike the crossbar on 15 minutes as the home side were kept at bay. Reus was at the heart of the win in Stuttgart on Tuesday, scoring and assisting on the night. He was Dortmund’s best route to goal with Mkhitaryan struggling to get into his rhythm early on. On 27 minutes, Reus’ free-kick from a similar distance and angle was flighted differently, but forced Ron-Robert Zieler into a good stop.

Hannover, bottom of the league, gradually conjured up the courage to ask questions of Dortmund’s new-look defensive structure. Matthias Ginter, acting as a defensive-midfielder, didn’t keep the door shut on the counter-attack and Uffe Bech should have banged home the opener for the visitors with nine minutes until the break. Karaman’s long-ranger was a good note for the away team to end the first half.

But Dortmund could rely on the prodigious Mkhitaryan to provide something out of the ordinary. The Armenian scored his side’s first goal from outside of the box, cutting inside on to his right-foot and slamming into the far corner on 57 minutes. Hannover couldn’t respond and are left rooted the foot of the Bundesliga, six points behind Werder Bremen who are third-from-bottom.

Meanwhile, Stuttgart’s remarkable resurgence under Jurgen Kramny continues as the Swabians moved within five points off the fourth UEFA Champions League position with a 2-0 win over Hertha Berlin.

Kramny’s side move up to 10th with their fifth win on the spin, their season pivoting dramatically from a relegation battle to potentially European qualification. Serey Die and Filip Kostic scored second half goals to keep Stuttgart on a seven-game unbeaten run in the Bundesliga.

The Swabians came out of the traps with the usual verve and intensity, but found it difficult to breakdown third-place Hertha. The Berliners, perhaps for the first time in a while, were forced to play mainly without the ball as Stuttgart dominated. Chances were limited though despite Stuttgart’s early efforts. Timo Werner headed over in the 27th minute from Daniel Schwaab’s cross.

Pal Dardai’s side had to wait for the moment to strike. When the Berliners did venture forward, it was courtesy of Marvin Plattenhardt’s free-kick which sailed over the top. On 37 minutes, Przemyslaw Tyton pulled off a superb save to prevent Vedad Ibisevic from scoring.

Both Ibisevic and Tolga Cigerci passed up clear chances at the beginning of the half before Stuttgart scored on 51 minutes. Lukas Rupp’s shot was parried back out by Rune Jarstein, and the bouncing ball was eventually rifled home by midfielder Serey Die. Even as late as 83 minutes, Stuttgart’s pressing was on point — the ball was regained in the Hertha defensive-third and Kostic fired the second to secure the win.

Hoffenheim’s 28-year-old coach Julian Nagelsmann could have hardly wished for a better start to his stint in charge. An admirer of Barcelona and Villarreal’s style of football, the goal was taken out of the La Masia manuals; high-pressing, quick-passing and a great finish from Andre Kramaric, who was shown his marching orders late on.

But Kramaric’s opener on 10 minutes was cancelled out by Jannik Vestergaard two minutes later — the Danish centerback dominating the aerial battle from a corner kick and bundling home Werder’s fourth goal from a set-piece in four games since the restart. A point doesn’t quite do either side much good in the bottom-three, but after Bremen’s Cup win at Leverkusen on Tuesday, Nagelsmann will be content with a point on his debut.

Elsewhere, Bayer Leverkusen came from behind to grab a 2-1 win at Darmstadt and are up to third with a stronger goal difference than Hertha Berlin. Goals from Omer Toprak and Julian Brandt fired Roger Schmidt’s side to victory, bouncing back after conceding the opener from Sandro Wagner to remain unbeaten in the league in six games.

Wolfsburg, who return to Champions League action next week, returned to winning ways following a difficult period of form with a 2-0 win over Ingolstadt. Julian Draxler tapped home the opener on 28 minutes before Robin Knoche secured the win with a second on 39 minutes. The Wolves, though, are five points off fourth and lie down in eighth place.

Saturday’s slate concluded with FC Köln’s come from behind 3-1 win vs. Eintracht Frankfurt at the Mungersdorferstadion to keep place for a European place next season.

Alexander Meier put the visitors in front with a clinical finish from Szabolcs Huszti’s pass, but Yannick Gerhardt brought the hosts level shortly afterwards. A Dominique Heintz header put Cologne in front on the day he signed a new contract to stay with the club until 2021, and Anthony Modeste wrapped up victory with his 10th goal of the season.

The Goats move onto 29 points, just four adrift of the European qualifying berths, while Frankfurt are now just a point above the relegation play-off position.

Information from FOXSoccer.com’s newswire services contributed to this report.