Patrik Schick scored a hat-trick as Bayer Leverkusen thrashed lowly Bochum 4-0 on Wednesday to end the first part of the season unbeaten and four points clear at the top of the Bundesliga.
Czech Republic striker Schick converted a penalty in the 30th, struck again two minutes later, and headed the third on the stroke of half-time. Victor Boniface got the fourth in the 69th.
Schick had not scored in the league since February as he was plagued by a groin injury and sidelined for many months. Wednesday's game was his first Bundesliga start in 14 months.
Bochum were the last team to beat Leverkusen, in last season's finale in May. This term, Xabi Alonso's men have not lost in their 16 Bundesliga matches and 25 games in all competitions, a German record, boasting 22 wins and three draws.
"It is really good, the way we present ourselves. It is good to end the year that way but we must start the year in the same way," Leverkusen sporting director Simon Rolfes told Sky TV.
They go into a three and a half week winter break four points ahead of champions Bayern Munich who have a game in hand and with an injury and illness depleted squad won 2-1 in Wolfsburg, from Jamal Musiala and a stunner from league top scorer Harry Kane who netted for the 21st time on matchday 16.
"It was clear that we had to fight our way through. That was three very important points and it feels really good," Bayern sporting director Christoph Freund said.
VfB Stuttgart returned into third place, another four points back, thanks to a 3-0 win over Augsburg from Deniz Undav, Serhou Guirassy who remains two behind Kane with 19 goals, and Chris Führich.
Stuttgart, who only escaped relegation via a play-off last term, have never before recorded 11 victories at this stage of the season.
Elsewhere, Union Berlin defeated Cologne 2-0; Heidenheim beat Freiburg 3-2 from a stoppage time own goal by Matthias Ginter; and Eintracht Frankfurt beat Borussia Mönchengladbach 2-1 from stoppage time goals from Aurelio Buta and Robin Koch after Gladbach scorer Maximilian Wöber was sent off.
Alonso rested all players he probably won't have available in January because of the Africa Cup of Nations, and Leverkusen had a hard time breaking down Bochum's defence.
But Schick finally opened the scoring on the half-hour mark from the spot after being brought down by goalkeeper Manuel Riemann.
The second followed two minutes later when he converted Jeremie Frimpong's cross from the right into the bottom left corner, and Schick completed the hat-trick in first-half stoppage time by heading home Alejandro Grimaldo's corner kick.
A fourth from Robert Andrich was nullified for offside after the break but there was nothing wrong when substitute Boniface fired home in the 69th for the final score.
In Wolfsburg, veteran Thomas Müller got a rare start the day after a contract renewal until 2025.
He first headed against the crossbar and then set up Musiala to nod the champions ahead in the 32nd minute of his 100th top flight game, at 20 the youngest Bayern player to reach this mark.
Müller then also set up Kane for the sensational second into the top right corner from some 20 metres in the 43rd.
Maximilian Arnold revived Wolfsburg's hopes late in the half but Bayern held on after the break.
- Patrik Schick