Jonas Hofmann hit the first hat-trick of his career on Sunday as Borussia Moenchengladbach went second in the Bundesliga with a 4-0 thrashing of his former club Mainz.
After their stunning 3-0 win at defending champions Bayern Munich three weeks ago, this was another big statement from Dieter Hecking and his side, who moved up into second place behind Borussia Dortmund.
Gladbach’s victory leaves Bayern fourth in the table despite Munich’s 3-1 win at Wolfsburg on Saturday with ten men after Arjen Robben was sent off for a second yellow card.
“It’s a bit unrealistic for us at the moment, but the fans are allowed to dream,” said Hofmann when asked if Gladbach are realistic title challengers – 31 years after last winning the Bundesliga.
“If things keep going this well, then we’ll all be pretty happy here.”
Hofmann, 26, spent the 2014/15 season on loan at Mainz before joining Gladbach from Dortmund in January 2016 and the box-to-box midfielder shone at Borussia Park.
Gladbach took the lead when Belgium midfielder Thorgan Hazard put in a perfectly-timed pass and Hofmann fired home with 21 minutes gone.
The pair then combined again in emphatic style, conjuring up three goals in a devastating 10-minute spell after the break.
After a good pass from Gladbach captain Lars Stindl, Hazard fed the ball into Hofmann who fired in off the post on 53 minutes.
With the Mainz defence in tatters, Hazard then scored one of his own five minutes later by volleying home a great pass by French forward Alassane Plea.
With Gladbach counter-attacking at will, Hofmann wrapped up his hat-trick on 63 minutes by tucking the ball around Mainz goalkeeper Florian Mueller from outside the box.
Earlier, Hertha Berlin coach Pal Dardai defended the referee’s decision to reverse a late penalty, won by his own son, which cost his team the chance to climb third after the video assistant referee (VAR) was used in their 1-1 draw at home to Freiburg.
Hertha playmaker Ondrej Duda fired home his sixth league goal of the season only for Freiburg to equalise through defender Robin Koch before the break.
The draw leaves Hertha sixth in the table however, there was late drama at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium when Hertha were awarded a penalty two minutes from time.
Berlin midfielder Palko Dardai, the 19-year-old son of the Hertha coach, went down in the area after challenging Freiburg defender Manuel Gulde, but replays showed the Hertha player instigated the fall.
Referee Benjamin Cortus rightly reversed his decision to award a spot-kick, much to the annoyance of the home fans in the 48,000-strong crowd, but the Berlin boss gracefully accepted the decision.
“It wasn’t the wrong decision,” said Hertha coach Dardai.
“After the first half, we had clear chances to go ahead.
“We conceded a goal in the second half from a deflected shot, that was annoying.
“We were missing the final touches and those last passes, so we accept the result.”
Hertha took the lead when Duda scored with just seven minutes gone.
Norway midfielder Per Skjelbred picked out the attacking midfielder and Slovakian star Duda fired home from a tight angle.
However, Freiburg have a reputation for fighting back and Christian Streich’s youthful side equalised before half-time.
When striker Roland Sallai lost the ball in the penalty area, Koch reacted fastest to hammer his shot into the net on 36 minutes with Hertha goalkeeper Rune Dar powerless to save the shot.
Hertha had a string of second-half chances with ex-Chelsea striker Salomon Kalou going close before the VAR stepped in to deny Berlin the late penalty.