Mario Gomez helps Bayern glide 17 points clear

Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich cruised 17 points clear at the top after a Mario Gomez goal proved enough to secure a 1-0 victory at Hoffenheim yesterday.

Gomez, making a rare start in place of the team’s top scorer Mario Mandzukic, scored the only goal of a lacklustre game when he flicked in a Franck Ribery header in the 38th minute.

The Bavarians, who made several changes to the team that ousted holders Borussia Dortmund from the German Cup on Wednesday, lacked pace in attack but were rarely threatened by lowly Hoffenheim. Their 20th win in 24 league games lifted them to 63 points, with champions Dortmund in second on 46. Bayern were without winger Arjen Robben, who was again ruled out with a muscle injury, and Hoffenheim briefly threatened in the opening stages with two long-range efforts from Daniel Williams.

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The visitors gradually found their rhythm and Gomez rounded off a lightning quick move that started with Hoffenheim losing possession in midfield to give Bayern the lead. The visitors were below par but had chances to extend their lead in the second half.

Bastian Schweinsteiger twice rattled the woodwork with consecutive free kicks and David Alaba drew a spectacular save from Hoffenheim keeper Heurelho Gomes late in the game.

Elsewhere, Real Madrid beat bitter rivals Barcelona for the second time in five days at the Bernabeu on Saturday. The 2-1 win will do little to prevent the Catalans reclaiming La Liga but will at least ensure Jose Mourinho’s team arrive in England full of confidence for tomorrow’s Champions League second-leg against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Sergio Ramos netted the winner in the 82nd minute when he rose to head in Luka Modric’s corner to give Madrid their first home league victory over Barcelona since 2008 in a game that grew testy toward the end and saw Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes sent off for protesting.

Lionel Messi had extended his Spanish league scoring record to 16 straight games when he equalised in the 18th minute to cancel out Karim Benzema’s sixth-minute opener. That was Messi’s 18th career goal in “Clasico” matches to tie Madrid great Alfredo Di Stefano’s mark set in the 1950s and 60s, but Barcelona were otherwise a shadow of their usual selves.

Madrid even managed without Cristiano Ronaldo for much of the match, as Mourinho rested the Portuguese winger until the final half hour with the game against Sir Alex Ferguson’s side in mind.