BERLIN — Robert Lewandowski’s goal was enough for Bayern Munich to stretch its Bundesliga lead with a 1-0 win at home over last-place Cologne on Wednesday.
Bayern now leads second-place Schalke by nine points after 16 rounds, with Lewandowski extending his league-leading tally to 15 goals in 16 games.
But Bayern, bidding for a record-extending sixth straight title, has played better games this season.
"Everything took much too long," Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes said.
Heynckes’ side next faces Stuttgart in the league on Saturday, and then defending champion Borussia Dortmund for a German Cup showdown on Dec. 20 before the winter break.
"You can tell that the team knows there are just two games left and that we no longer have the 100 per cent energy reserves. So we just let the ball move around and took the 1-0 win as it was," Bayern captain Thomas Mueller said.
Winless Cologne, which had already made the worst start by any team since the Bundesliga began in 1963, held Bayern scoreless in the first half, leading to whistles from some home fans at the break.
"We did too little in the first half," Mueller said. "We didn’t move the ball quickly enough, didn’t make enough moves into dangerous areas."
It took an hour for Bayern to finally get through Cologne’s defence. Jerome Boateng chipped the ball over the top and Thomas Mueller cushioned the ball back with a header for Lewandowski to volley past Timo Horn from close range.
The visitors discarded their caution and pushed for an equalizer. Lukas Kluenter – Cologne’s greatest attacking threat throughout – came closest late on when he drew a brilliant save from Tom Starke.
The 36-year-old Starke, Bayern’s third-choice goalkeeper, was called out of retirement due to Manuel Neuer’s long injury layoff and was playing his second successive game after No. 2 Sven Ulreich suffered a groin problem.
Cologne slumped to its 13th defeat from 16 games.
"With a bit of luck like we had last season, one of them would have gone in," Horn said of his team’s chances. "The team threw everything into it, and, like so often, it wasn’t enough."
A late penalty from Daniel Caligiuri helped Schalke reclaim second place with a 3-2 win at home over Augsburg.
Two goals either side of halftime from Franco di Santo and Guido Burgstaller looked to have Schalke coasting. However, from then on it was only Augsburg, which equalized with goals from Caiuby and Michael Gregoritsch.
But then Augsburg ‘keeper Marwin Hitz was adjudged to have brought down Amine Harit and Caligiuri converted the spot kick for Schalke to overtake Leipzig.
All the home sides won Wednesday. Bayer Leverkusen moved fourth with a 1-0 win over Werder Bremen, Hertha Berlin defeated Hannover 3-1, and Hoffenheim beat Stuttgart 1-0.