MUNICH: German champions and leaders Bayern Munich retained their four-point cushion at the top of the Bundesliga with a 4-0 home rout of VfB Stuttgart on Saturday with Robert Lewandowski netting a hat-trick after they had Alphonso Davies sent off early on.
The result left Bayern top on 61 points from 26 games with second-placed RB Leipzig on 57 ahead of their highly anticipated clash on April 3 after the international break.
Bayern coach Hansi flick congratulated his team after a stunning first-half performance which made Stuttgart look like they were a man down, with the home side dominating after Davies was given his marching orders.
"Big congratulations to my team, we controlled the game as we remained sound defensively while we took our chances well in attack," Flick told a news conference.
"It's not good that Davies picked up a red card so early in the game but the team responded really well, we stayed compact at the back and hit them at the other end."
Canadian left back Davies was shown a straight red card in the 12th minute for a studs-up challenge on Wataru Endo, with the referee initially brandishing a yellow and then reversed his decision after a VAR check.
The dismissal only galvanised Bayern with Lewandowski firing them ahead five minutes later, as he slid in at the near post ahead of his marker to fire home a low Serge Gnabry cross from the right flank.
Gnabry made it 2-0 in the 22nd after a sweeping move involving Thomas Mueller and Leroy Sane before Lewandowski added the third less than 60 seconds later when he rose to head home a Mueller cross from the right.
The Poland striker added some gloss in the 39th with a clinical left-footed finish from inside the penalty area as he pounced on sloppy defending by Stuttgart after Sane's jinking run down the right flank.
Bayern took their feet off the pedal in the second half but despite their numerical disadvantage, they still dominated as Lewandowski and Gnabry missed chances to give them an even bigger win against the hapless visitors.
Lewandowski's hat-trick made him the joint second top scorer in Bundesliga history with 268 goals alongside Klaus Fischer, behind Bayern's iconic former striker Gerd Mueller who scored 385.
It also means he is now just five goals off equalling Mueller's record for the most goals scored in a single top flight season in Germany.
Lewandowski hailed Fischer and said he hoped his individual exploits would help the German and European club champions win more silverware.
"I am proud to reach a number of 268 goals in the Bundesliga like the legendary Klaus Fischer," he said on Twitter. "I always want my goals to help us win new titles with Bayern."
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Christian Radnedge)