Robert Andrich: From Germany’s Third Tier to Invincibility at Leverkusen

Invincible: a term reserved for only the greatest of teams. Arsenal 2003/2004, Juventus 2011-2012 spring to mind as the most notable of teams who have gone a whole league season unbeaten. Now Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen are one game away from joining this illustrious group.


They have shattered records, broken Bayern Munich’s 11-year hegemony over the Bundesliga and are on course for an unprecedented unbeaten treble. At the steely centre of this team has been Robert Andrich, whose own journey has been nothing short of miraculous.


Andrich started his career at Hertha BSC, before joining Dynamo Dresden and SV Wehen Wiesbaden. Both of whom were in German football’s third tier. He then excelled at 1. FC Heidenheim in 2018-2019 in the 2. Bundesliga. This form then led to the midfielder being picked up by Union Berlin in June 2019. Union Berlin, who were promoted to the Bundesliga for the first time in their history, gave Andrich his Bundesliga debut at 24, providing the perfect platform to show his talents.


For two years, the German would excel in the capital showing the grit and determination that helped propel him through the leagues. He helped Union Berlin finish 11th and seventh in the Bundesliga, helping them reach the Europa Conference League. 



For a player who had started at the bottom of the pyramid, you would think staying put in a place where he was so loved would be the correct move. But Andrich is unlike others. Getting used to “comfortability” would have betrayed the same ethos that drove him to this position. Hence, his move to Bayer Leverkusen in August 2021.This same drive has pushed him to a position where not even the most outlandish of prophecies would’ve guessed.


At the start of this season, Andrich was not a starter for Leverkusen, with Alonso preferring Exequiel Palacios to start alongside Granit Xhaka in midfield. But after Christmas, the tempo changed. Alonso decided he needed some heavy metal in midfield alongside the poise of Xhaka and in stepped Andrich. He has started in 20 of the subsequent 25 games and he certainly wouldn’t look out of place in a German punk band.


The thing about so-called late bloomers like the German is that they know what their weaknesses and strengths are perfectly. They know what their coach requires of them and how to play their roles to a tee. Andrich then became the Yin to Xhaka’s Yang. 


He has been the enforcer of the two, scowling at opposition midfielders, clipping at their heels successfully as he is an efficient tackler with a success rate of 56%. With Xhaka in midfield, the two form a solid defensive block and succeed in forcing the opposition wide.



In possession, he completes 77 passes per game which ranks him in the upper 94th percentile of all midfielders in Europe and he completes 90% of his overall passes which puts him in the upper 91st percentile. This shows two things. A) Alonso wants to dominate the ball which is the foundation of his side’s success. B) He trusts his ‘destroyer’ in possession and to make the right decisions.


Admittedly, the German is not the most adventurous player in possession as he only ranks in the 55th and 43rd percentile of progressive passes and carries this season. But that is part of his role. His simplicity in possession keeps things ticking thus allowing Xhaka to dictate the game undisturbed. 


His desire to never give up on the pitch epitomises Leverkusen’s 50 game unbeaten run. A run littered with last-minute winners and equalisers. Andrich’s 96th minute equaliser against Stuttgart springs to mind. A freekick from the left wing, somehow bounces to him on the penalty spot and the resulting left-foot volley bounces off a Stuttgart player on the line to go in.


Media outlets are rife with speculation as to what deal Leverkusen made with the devil due to them scoring 16 goals in the 90th minute and beyond this season. But this isn’t witchcraft nor is it just plain luck. Luck is when skill meets opportunity and Andrich showed that against Stuttgart and all season. The timing could not be better with a European tournament on the horizon this summer.



The thing with history is that it repeats itself, as this is not the first time a Leverkusen midfielder has been in this position. Back in 2002, legendary German midfielder Michael Ballack was in a position to win a treble having gone to the final of the Champions League, DFB-Pokal and had a five-point lead on top of the Bundesliga with three games left.


A Zidane volley and an unreal collapse led to Leverkusen winning nothing domestically. To rub salt into the wounds, an oddly trimmed fellow named Ronaldo scored twice in the World Cup final to stop Ballack from obtaining the World Cup as a small consolation. Andrich has already avoided this fate by securing the Bundesliga. However, he would hope to avoid his countryman’s international fate, as he has bloomed at the perfect time to play a key role for Julian Nagelsmann’s Germany.


After Toni Kroos was recalled from the international wilderness, Nagelsmann decided he needs steel next to the Madrid man. In comes Andrich, who only played once for Germany beforehand. His industrial style of play allows Kroos to weave his magic. In the two games they started together in the March internationals, against Euro favourites France and the Netherlands, Germany won both games and dominated the midfield. It seems that Nagelsmann has found his midfield duo with Andrich’s skill set pushing Joshua Kimmich to right-back.


With one league game and two finals upcoming, Andrich has the chance to etch himself into history. Three games away from an invincible treble would rank this Leverkusen team as one of the greatest teams of the 21st century and Andrich’s as one of football’s biggest fairytales.


If Germany are to win the European Championship on home soil this summer, the Leverkusen midfielder would surely star in a key role. Even the wildest of scriptwriters couldn’t write such a story, but as we know by now, Robert Andrich doesn’t adhere to what is set out for him, he makes his own path.


By: Abu Yasin / @Abuy2j

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Christof Koepsel / Getty Images