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Bayern on verge of title after reaching 50 mark

Berlin: Bayern Munich could be crowned Bundesliga champions next weekend after their 2-1 win at home to Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday left them 23 points clear in the table.

The European champions will be confirmed as German champions for the 24th time if they win at Mainz next Saturday and rivals Dortmund and Schalke both fail to win.

Goals by Mario Mandzukic and Bastian Schweinsteiger saw Bayern enjoy their 17th-straight league win and extend their record unbeaten Bundesliga run to 50 matches.

Former Germany striker Stefan Kiessling gave Leverkusen a consolation goal when he headed home just before the final whistle.

“We will be champions, but we still have to collect a few points first,” said Bayern coach Pep Guardiola.

“It’s not important when it happens, just that we keep playing well.”

The victory capped arguably the most turbulent week in Bayern’s history after ex-president Uli Hoeness resigned on Friday, 24 hours after being convicted of tax fraud.

He was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison by Munich’s regional court having cheated the state out of €28.5 million (Dh145.5 million) in unpaid taxes.

“I haven’t been at the club that long, only about nine months, but I have seen how important Uli Hoeness is for Bayern,” said Guardiola.

“He has admitted to his mistakes and I hope we can keep putting in good performances in his absence and that he will come back to us.”

Hoeness was absent at Munich’s Allianz Arena. Sky television underscored his absence when zooming in on the empty seat next to chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, where the 62-year-old normally sits, and there were a few banners of support from fans.

Leverkusen were the last German team to beat Bayern, back in October 2012, but Sami Hyypia’s side offered little resistance as they suffered their seventh defeat in eight matches.

They had already dropped to fourth after being knocked from third by Schalke’s 2-1 win at Augsburg on Friday.

The victory was a welcome boost for Schalke ahead of Tuesday’s trip to Real Madrid, where they face the near-impossible task of over-turning their 6-1 home leg defeat in the Champions League last-16.

Bayern’s relentless march to the title was helped after second-placed Borussia Dortmund suffered a 2-1 defeat at home to Borussia Moenchengladbach earlier on Saturday.

Gladbach earned their first win in ten games to dent Dortmund’s confidence ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League clash at home to Zenit St Petersburg, when they hold a 4-2 lead from the first leg.

“That is a bitter result for us, so the disappointment is huge,” said Dortmund captain Sebastian Kehl.

Dortmund are now just one point clear of third-placed rivals Schalke ahead of the Ruhr Valley derby on March 25.

“We could have a cushion behind us, now things are tight,” admitted Dortmund midfielder Nuri Sahin.

Swiss coach Lucien Favre extended his Gladbach contract last week until 2017 and his side produced a devastating first-half spell with two goals in nine minutes at Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion.

Brazilian striker Raffael wrong-footed Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller on 31 minutes, then Max Kruse fired home five minutes before the break.

Gladbach midfielder Havard Nordtveit was sent off for a second yellow card for the final 20 minutes and new-signing Milos Jojic pulled one back for Dortmund on 77 minutes.

Mainz moved up to fifth with a sensational 4-2 victory at Hoffenheim, with Japan’s Shinji Okazaki netting their last two goals as the guests scored three times in seven stunning second-half minutes to come from 2-0 down.

The win keeps Thomas Tuchel’s Mainz in the hunt for a European spot next season and they are only three points short of a Champions League berth.

Relegation-threatened VfB Stuttgart, with new coach Huub Stevens in charge, are winless in their last 10 matches as they were held to a 1-1 draw at Werder Bremen.

Wolfsburg drop to sixth after their 1-1 draw at bottom side Eintracht Braunschweig as only three points separate the bottom four clubs including Freiburg, Hamburg and Stuttgart.

Hertha’s European aspirations suffered a dent as they lost 2-0 at home to Hanover 96 to stay ninth and four points off the top six.