COLOGNE, Germany (Reuters) - Bayern Munich scored three goals in a devastating opening 12 minutes as they thumped Cologne 4-1 away on Sunday to go back to the top of the Bundesliga.
Robert Lewandowski maintained his average of over a goal a game this season as he put the Bavarians ahead in the third minute and goals from Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry left Cologne reeling.
After Cologne had two goals disallowed for offside, Gnabry added a fourth in the 65th minute before Mark Uth scored a consolation for the Billy Goats, who deserved more for their second-half effort.
Bayern, chasing an eighth successive title, have 46 points from 22 games, one ahead of RB Leipzig who had gone top with a 3-0 win over Werder Bremen on Saturday. Cologne are 14th with 23 points and have a six-point cushion over the relegation playoff spot.
"We could have scored 10 goals but we could have conceded a few more," said Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
His opposite number Timo Horn said that Cologne "just went to sleep for the first few minutes."
"In the first half, you could see that we are still in the development phase," said Cologne coach Markus Gisdol.
"Bayern used their quality extremely effectively. We were too passive, we gave them too much room and didn't go forward with enough courage."
Bayern's opening goal came after a throw-in led to a quick exchange of passes which freed Lewandowski to fire his shot into the roof of the net for his 23rd league goal of the season and 36th in all competitions.
Two minutes later, Bayern sliced open the Cologne defence with incisive passing and Coman placed his shot under Horn.
It got worse for the hosts when a corner flew over the Cologne area and landed at the feet of Gnabry, who took it past a defender and drilled his shot into the bottom corner.
Bayern, who were sixth in early December, had 18 shots on goal in the first half and could easily have doubled their tally as Gnabry and Joshua Kimmich hit the Cologne woodwork and Thomas Mueller scooped another effort over the crossbar.
Cologne pulled themselves together after the break and Jhon Cordoba twice had the ball in the net but both efforts were ruled out for offside, the first after a long VAR delay.
But it was Bayern who scored again when Gnabry collected the ball in midfield, ran into the heart of the Cologne defence and curled his effort past Horn in the 65th minute.
Uth pulled one back in the 70th minute and Neuer needed to make several saves to keep the hosts at bay.
Sixth-placed Schalke 04 lost ground on the Champions League places with a 0-0 draw at Mainz 05 in Sunday's other game.
(Reporting by Brian Homewood, editing by Ed Osmond and Ian Chadband)
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