BERLIN (Reuters) – Champions Bayern Munich opened up an eight-point lead in the Bundesliga at the start of the German season’s one-month winter break by beating Hanover 96 1-0 on Saturday amid mounting speculation over the future of coach Pep Guardiola.
With more than half a dozen players missing through injury Bayern, whose near-flawless first half to the campaign has seen them win 15 and lose one of their 17 games, needed a Thomas Mueller penalty to prevail as second-placed Borussia Dortmund conceded two late goals in a surprise 2-1 defeat at Cologne.
But the focus was on Spaniard Guardiola, who has won back-to-back German league titles in his two seasons so far, and has refused to end speculation of a move to the English Premier League.
“I have to give the team a huge compliment,” he told reporters. “We did not have a lot of players at our disposal in the past few weeks and they did an outstanding job. With all the players missing what we wanted to do today was mainly to control the game.”
Asked when fans should expect any news on his contract negotiations, Guardiola said: “(CEO Karl-Heinz) Rummenigge has said we will talk the day after the game at Hanover.”
Former Real Madrid and AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti is a potential successor should Guardiola leave at the end of the season, according to media reports.
Both teams hit the woodwork in an aggressive start before the visitors were awarded a penalty for handball in the 39th minute. Mueller stepped up and sent Ron-Robert Zieler the wrong way, after the goalkeeper had earlier denied the Bavarians with a string of outstanding saves.
Dortmund dropped eight points off Bayern’s 46-point pace even though a first-half header from Sokratis Papastathopoulos had given them the lead in Cologne. Simon Zoller equalised eight minutes from time after a mistake by stopper Roman Buerki and Anthony Modeste drilled in a last-minute winner.
Bayer Leverkusen’s Mexico forward Javier Hernandez struck in the 73rd minute for his 12th goal of the season as they edged Ingolstadt 1-0 to climb to fourth place on 27.
VfL Wolfsburg, who reached the knockout stage of the Champions League earlier this month, suffered a disappointing end to 2016 in the Bundesliga, losing 3-1 at 10-man VfB Stuttgart to stretch their winless run to four league matches.
Daniel Didavi struck twice for the hosts, who had Toni Sunjic sent off in the second half.
Stuttgart, who secured their first win under interim coach Juergen Kramny, moved out of the relegation zone for the first time in months and into 15th place. Wolfsburg drop to sixth on 26.
Europa League contenders Augsburg confirmed their improving form with a 1-0 win over Hamburg SV, their third straight victory and fourth in their last five matches, to move up to 12th spot on 19 points.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Ian Chadband, Ken Ferris and Toby Davis)