By Roy Kammerer BERLIN, AP
Aaron Hunt scored a hat trick Saturday for Werder Bremen to beat VfL Bochum 3-0 and move within three points of Bundesliga leader Schalke.
Schalke, which lost 2-0 to Hamburger SV on Friday, was once seven points clear but hasn’t won in its last three games.
The 20-year-old Hunt scored in the 25th, 73rd and 76th minutes as the German league’s best attack moved 16 goals clear of its nearest rival after it had struggled to find the net in three defeats in February.
The 41,000 spectators at Bremen’s Weserstadion gave their team a standing ovation at halftime.
“We used the chance Schalke gave us — now everything is wide open again,” Hunt said. “I think as a team we played a strong match.”
Hunt scored his first by shooting into an open goal on a breakaway. He then netted twice more on passes by Diego.
Schalke leads with 49 points. Bremen has 46, VfB Stuttgart 45 and Bayern Munich 43.
Germany forward Lukas Podolski scored once and assisted in goals by Hasan Salihamidzic and Roy Makaay as Bayern beat Hertha Berlin 3-1 in front of 74,220 spectators at the Olympic Stadium.
“It’s a gift from the heavens,” Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld said of Schalke’s loss. “We were just hoping for a Champions League berth, but if Schalke gives us an invitation like this, then why not the title?”
Bayern had entered the game with five straight away losses for the first time in 30 years.
But Salihamidzic scored in the 30th after Podolski’s header was blocked, and just 56 seconds later Podolski volleyed the ball into the net on the run.
After Hertha closed to 2-1, Makaay took a pass from Podolski that went between two defenders to score inside the left post.
Berlin’s goals came from Christian Gimenez in the 58th and Dick van Burik in the 82nd.
On Wednesday, Bayern plays Real Madrid in the Champions League and plays Bremen on Sunday.
“The team believed in itself today, it took the chance Schalke gave us,” Hitzfeld said. “Now the team has to regenerate fast.”
Stuttgart had a chance to pull within a point of Schalke, but instead had a five-match unbeaten streak stopped after a 3-1 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen.
Leverkusen, which climbed to sixth, had goals from Andrei Voronin in the 20th, Paul Freier in the 22nd and Juan in the 60th. Cacau scored for Stuttgart in the 73rd.
Stuttgart coach Armin Veh said the loss takes the pressure of his team, whose average age is 23.
“Bayern is back in it, Bremen has passed us, now we can work without the spotlight on us,” Veh said. “The race is exciting — I would be happy if we are in it at the end.”
In other matches, it was: Bielefeld 3, Nuremberg 2; Wolfsburg 1, Borussia Moenchengladbach 0; and Frankfurt 2, Hannover 96 0.