Schalke 04 underlined their title ambitions by moving five points clear at the Bundesliga summit with a 2-1 win over local rivals VfL Bochum on Friday.
Goals from Brazilian right back Rafinha and Danish international Peter Lovenkrands ensured a fourth straight league win for Schalke.
Schalke, runners-up in 2005, are now five points clear of Werder Bremen and VfB Stuttgart with reigning champions Bayern Munich six adrift.
"Where you are after 34 games is more important than where you are now or at Christmas," said Schalke coach Mirko Slomka.
"We are out of the UEFA Cup and the domestic cup so [we] can concentrate completely on the Bundesliga and that is an advantage as we can train more intensively knowing we will not be playing twice in a week," he said.
After a cagey opening the hosts took the lead with the 21-year-old Rafinha netting in the 19th minute after an intelligent back heel from Turkish international striker Halil Altintop.
Rafinha, who caught the eye at last year's world championships for the Brazilian Under-20 side, celebrated his rare goal with a samba dance.
Schalke doubled their lead in the 27th minute when Lovenkrands, a summer signing from Rangers, hammered a low shot through the goalkeeper's legs.
"We signed Lovenkrands for his pace and that is exactly what he is providing. It was a great finish and good for his confidence," Slomka said.
Greek international Theofanis Gekas pulled one back for Bochum four minutes after the interval with his sixth goal of the season.
"We could have had a penalty at the end but did not get it," said Bochum coach Marcel Koller. "We have had a few problems at the back but trailing 2-0 you have to be more adventurous."
In the 66th minute, Schalke were awarded a penalty for a foul by Heiko Butscher, but Levan Kobiaschvili missed from the spot.
Schalke have not won the title since 1958 but came agonizingly close in 2001 when they finished second only a point behind Bayern.