Champions Bayern Munich won 2-1 in Cologne and Borussia Dortmund 2-0 at Arminia Bielefeld in the Bundesliga on Saturday, in the absence of their star strikers Robert Lewandowski and Erling Haaland.
Thomas Mueller and Serge Gnabry were on target for Bayern and Mats Hummels got a brace for Dortmund as they went joint top on points ahead of their showdown next Saturday, with Bayern first on goal difference.
They dethroned RB Leipzig who suffered a first season defeat, 1-0 at Borussia Moenchengladbach, and slipped into third, two points back, and two ahead of Gladbach.
Munich coach Hansi Flick rested Lewandowski and Leon Goretzka; and Dortmund helmsman Lucien Favre took no chances on his marksman after Haaland had complained about knee problems.
Bayern, Dortmund, Leipzig and Gladbach have to manage their squads in a gruelling campaign in which they face a third straight week of Champions League football next week, and many of their players also national team triple-headers in November.
Flick made six changes from the starting 11 in Tuesday’s 2-1 at Lokomotiv Moscow, with Lewandowski replaced by newly-signed Eric Maxim Chuopo-Moting.
“We always talk about stress control, and we not only have to talk, but also put it into practice,” Flick told Sky TV, naming Lewandowski’s break “just good for him.”
Mueller stepped up for Lewandowski to open the scoring from the penalty spot in the 13th after Marius Wolf was adjudged to have handled the ball after a header from Gnabry.
Germany winger Gnabry made it 2-0 on the stroke of half-time with a fine solo and a curling shot into the far left corner.
But Bayern had to sweat it out a little after Dominick Drexler scored in the 82nd for Cologne who are without victory in 16 games and third-last.
“In the end it’s the result that counts. I’m very satisfied with our attitude, the mentality and the desire to win … less so with the game itself,” Flick said, while Mueller spoke of “a laboured victory.”
Dortmund got theiur first win in Bielefeld since 1999 after Favre rotated five new players into the line-up after Wednesday’s 2-0 against Zenit St Petersburg.
Jadon Sancho’s 53rd-minute corner-kick fell onto Hummels’ thigh at the far post and went in, and the former Germany defender headed the second in the 71st for his first brace in 10 years.
Hummels limped off late with a thigh-muscle problem but expressed hope “to win the race against time” ahead of the next tasks.
Gladbach coach Marco Rose made three changes after their 2-2 against Real Madrid and Leipzig’s Julian Nagelsmann brought four new men in after a 5-0 meltdown at Manchester United.
Leipzig’s defeat, their first in the league against Gladbach, was sealed by a curling shot from Hannes Wolf, on loan from Leipzig, on the hour into the bottom right corner for his first Bundesliga goal.
“Today we finally managed to preserve the lead. We played a good match and defended well in the end,” said Wolf after Gladbach had conceded late in several past games.
Elsewhere, Eintracht Frankfurt drew 1-1 with Werder Bremen, with the visitors leading from Joshua Sergant and Andre Silva levelling.
Augsburg rose into fifth 3-1 against bottom side Mainz thanks to a brace from Andre Hahn in the final 10 minutes.
Mainz have lost all six season games and next meet second-last Schalke who have not won in 22 games after a 1-1 draw with VfB Stuttgart on Friday.
The Sunday games are Freiburg v Leverkusen and Hertha Berlin v Wolfsburg, and Hoffenheim v Union Berlin is Monday.