Bayern Munich moved level on points with Bundesliga leader Borussia Dortmund as it defeated Hertha Berlin 1-0 at the Allianz Arena.
With Dortmund not in action against Bayer Leverkusen until Sunday, the champion seized the opportunity to pile pressure onto its rivals despite a largely poor performance against Hertha. The visitor carried the greater threat before Javi Martinez nodded Bayern in front just after the hour, settling nerves among the home supporters.
The final 30 minutes were still not wholly convincing, however, and long-suffering Bayern winger Kingsley Coman was dealt another injury blow, disappearing down the tunnel nine minutes after arriving from the bench.
A frustrating afternoon for a Hertha side which would have been good value for at least a point ended with Karim Rekik sent off as he lashed out at Robert Lewandowski off the ball.
Bayern lacked fluency in the first half and saw an early offside flag deny the visitors' Davie Selke the opener. Jerome Boateng, in for the ill Mats Hummels, was required to hack clear in front of the goal line when Salomon Kalou beat Manuel Neuer.
There was initially little improvement from the host following the restart and only a superb Joshua Kimmich block diverted a goalbound Selke strike past the left-hand upright.
But it took just one opportunity for Bayern to break the deadlock, with the unlikely figure of Martinez making the difference as he rose above Rune Jarstein to head home.
What does it mean?
Was this the week Kovac found his feet at Bayern? After a tough start to life at the Allianz Arena, Kovac has overseen significant progress at home and abroad in recent days. A goalless draw at Liverpool gives the Bundesliga giant every chance of Champions League progression, while the pressure is now on Dortmund in the league as it faces Leverkusen.
Martinez makes the difference
Spanish midfielder Martinez was lauded for his display against Liverpool and he was again an assured presence in the middle of the field on Saturday. But performances matter little at this stage of a title chase and it was Martinez's goal that made all the difference for Bayern.
A tricky trip to Borussia Monchengladbach lies before Bayern next Saturday, as Hertha hosts Mainz earlier in the same day.