Stuttgart closer to Europe after Bremen rout
Stuttgart strengthened their claim for a place in Europe next season with a 4-1 win over Werder Bremen which dents their opponents' own hopes of finishing inside the top seven.
Markus Rosenberg gave Bremen the lead against the run of play in the 25th minute, but Christian Gentner and Martin Harnik turned the game around before the interval.
Harnik struck again in the 53rd minute before Cacau added a fourth to seal Stuttgart's third win in a row and take them five points clear of sixth-placed Bayer Leverkusen and just four adrift of Borussia Monchengladbach in fourth place.
Stuttgart showed how they have surged from relegation danger into contention for a place in Europe next season with seven wins in 13 games in 2012 as they put Bremen up against the ropes from the outset.
However, Bruno Labbadia's side have been making a habit of going behind and this game was to be no exception. Claudio Pizarro won a rebound and was able to send Marko Marin through, and the Germany international lifted a perfect cross into the middle where Rosenberg was waiting unmarked to tap the ball in from close range.
It was a shock lead for Bremen, but Gentner soon made amends. There was only one thing on his mind when he got the ball on to his right foot just outside the penalty area and rifled a shot into the top right-hand corner of Tim Wiese's goal.
Wiese had little chance of reaching that shot, but he did get a hand to Georg Niedermeier's header from a corner in first-half stoppage time. However, all the Bremen goalkeeper managed to do was tee the ball up for Harnik to nod it over the line from close range.
Harnik added a third early in the second half with an almost carbon copy of his first goal. It was another corner which the Bremen defence failed to deal with, although the ball appeared to strike Harnik on his hand before he was able to bundle the ball over the line.
Another set-piece led to Stuttgart's fourth in the 89th minute with Cacau meeting Gotoku Sakai's free-kick to flick the ball past Wiese with almost his first touch of the game. It was Stuttgart's 36th goal in 2012, already 13 more than they scored in the first half of the season, and they still have three games of the season left to improve on that unrivalled haul since the turn of the year.
And they can also improve on the Europa League if they can further reduce the deficit on Monchengladbach and move up to fourth with a place in the Champions League beckoning.