Ballack returns as Leverkusen go second
Berlin: Michael Ballack returned from injury on Sunday as Bayer Leverkusen went second in the Bundesliga with a 3-1 win at bottom side Moenchengladbach to trim Dortmund’s lead at the top to 11 points.
Germany captain Ballack made a low-key return after suffering a fractured leg which has kept him out since September and he came off the bench with just over half an hour remaining, just before ‘Gladbach pulled a goal back.
The 34-year-old put in a few telling passes as he looks to play his way back into the Germany team which faces Italy in a friendly in Dortmund on February 9.
“If you have been out for so long, you burn to play again,” said Ballack.
“I was lucky because I came on when we were 2-0 up, so there was room to go forward. We didn’t begin well, but we turned it around.
“Top place is gone for us and everyone else, Dortmund are too far ahead.”
Leverkusen took the lead when Czech defender Michal Kadlec curled in a direct free-kick on 37 minutes before Germany defender Gonzalo Castro headed in a cross just before the half-time break to make it 2-0.
Austrian defender Martin Stranzl hit a superb goal when he curled in a shot from the wing on 65 minutes before Castro put the result beyond doubt with a second goal after Leverkusen counter-attacked quickly.
The win puts Leverkusen second with 36 points while Dortmund, who drew 1-1 with Stuttgart on Saturday, continue to dominate with 47 points.
On Saturday, Mario Gomez hit a hat-trick as defending champions Bayern Munich finished the weekend fourth with a 5-1 win over Kaiserslautern.
Bayern remain 14 points behind Dortmund after Gomez netted three second-half goals to bring his tally to 15 in 17 league matches this season.
It makes him the league’s joint top-scorer with Freiburg’s Papiss Cisse Demba.
Dortmund had to share the points after Stuttgart’s Russia striker Pavel Pogrebnyak equalised in the 84th minute.
Borussia had opened the scoring just before the half-time break when midfielder Kevin Grosskreutz slid a pass through the Stuttgart defence for teenager Mario Goetze to beat the goalkeeper on 43 minutes.
Stuttgart fought back for a point but are still 17th in the league, one from bottom, despite the draw.
Cologne dragged themselves out of the bottom three with a 3-0 win at home to Werder Bremen which leaves them 15th, just below Bremen who are 14th.
Germany striker and Cologne captain Lukas Podolski opened the scoring with a well-taken goal in the sixth minute before Poland midfielder Adam Matuschyk added a second on 33 minutes. Podolski hit a second with time almost up.
Hanover dropped to third after losing 1-0 at home to Schalke.
Schalke, who face Valencia in the last 16 of the Champions League next month, sealed the win when veteran Spanish striker Raul hit his 10th league goal of the season when he netted in the 33rd minute.
The win lifts Schalke up to 10th place.
Ex-England coach Steve McClaren picked up his first win in 10 matches when his Wolfsburg side earned a 1-0 win at Mainz, who drop to fourth.
A header from Wolfsburg defender Simon Kjaer in the 82nd minute after a cross from Brazilian Diego secured the three points.