Robert Andrich has been a huge part of Bayer Leverkusen's success this season. - © DFL/Getty Images/Lukas Schulze
Robert Andrich has been a huge part of Bayer Leverkusen's success this season. - © DFL/Getty Images/Lukas Schulze

Robert Andrich: The midfield destroyer for Bayer Leverkusen and Germany


Robert Andrich has taken the long road to the top, but is now reaping the reward in the colours of Bayer Leverkusen and Germany. analyses what makes the midfielder so effective ahead of the UEFA Euro 2024...

When Andrich hit a long-range special to double Leverkusen's lead in their UEFA Europa League semi-final first leg against Roma, it felt like a huge reminder of how far the Germany international has come. Not only in his career overall, but especially over the last 365 days. 

Leverkusen's tie with Roma is a replay of the same fixture at this exact stage last season. Andrich suffered a metatarsal fracture in the first leg that ruled him out for the rest of the campaign, making his all-important second goal in the 2-0 win all the more special. As Die Werkself completed an unbeaten Bundesliga campaign - Andrich scored on the final-day win over Augsburg - and progressed to the final of the Europa League to continue their treble quest, the former Union Berlin man further underlined his importance.

He's also established himself as a mainstay in Julian Nagelsmann's Germany side, partnering Toni Kroos at the heart of midfield and allowing those around him to showcase their best. He was recently named in the squad for this summer's European Championships and is expected to feature heavily in the tournament itself.

So how has the 29-year-old done all this so late in his career?

Watch: The best of Robert Andrich in the Bundesliga

The ultimate destroyer

Andrich's career has taken him from the fourth tier to the very top of the Bundesliga with Leverkusen. From starting with Hertha Berlin's B team, he has played for Dynamo Dresden, Wehen Wiesbaden, Heidenheim and Union. He has had to wait a good while for his opportunity at the highest level, making his Bundesliga debut in August 2019.

Fast forward five years, and he has formed a formidable midfield partnership alongside Granit Xhaka, despite a difficult start to the season. He started 10 of 19 competitive games before the winter break, but 20 of 26 since.

Andrich has impressed with not only his performances but huge character as well. - DFL/Getty Images/Simon Hofmann

In Alonso's 3-4-2-1 formation, Andrich gives Leverkusen's more creative players the licence to go forward, given the security he provides at the back. Alongside Xhaka, he takes a greater responsibility out of possession in hunting down loose balls or pouncing on opposition player mistakes. His defensive strengths overall make him the perfect partner for someone like Xhaka, who tends to see a lot more possession. 

In fact, when you compare the amount of touches between the pair in this season's Bundesliga, there is a difference of over 1,500. With the Switzerland international enjoying more of the ball than any other Leverkusen player, it becomes the job of players like Andrich to find Xhaka as soon as possession is won back.

When fielded on the pitch together, Xhaka and Andrich are like a wall in central areas to pass through. A tough and often impenetrable wall.

Andrich and Xhaka bring the perfect blend of physical strengths as well as excellent footballing intelligence. - DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga

Andrich is a powerful and robust presence in midfield and is never one to shy away from a tackle. He has garnered a reputation for being similar to 2014 FIFA World Cup winner Sami Khedira in his style of play, uncompromising in his challenges and always giving it his all in 1v1 duels. 

Despite accumulating the fourth most fouls (23) among Leverkusen players in the Bundesliga this season, Andrich is actually one of the more efficient tacklers in the squad, with a success rate comfortably over 50 percent.

A big factor behind that is his awareness and ability to react to any impending threats quicker than the rest to quell any troubles for his team. It's precisely that kind of instinct that makes him an asset not only defensively but also offensively for Leverkusen, when they look to press opponents higher up the pitch.

Another underrated or perhaps under-appreciated aspect of Andrich's game is how rarely he gives the ball away with his passing. Over 90 minutes, he's managed over 90 percent for pass completion.

Andrich's instinct for tackles and interceptions makes him the perfect foil for Leverkusen. - DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga

Reliable in possession

Andrich is now at the end of his third season at the BayArena. Just as Alonso's side have evolved in and out of possession, so has Andrich.

For most of his career, Andrich has played for teams that place a greater emphasis on working hard without the ball, remaining solid defensively first and foremost, and then exploiting any gaps left by the opposition. This season, however, Alonso's Leverkusen play quite differrently compared to 2022/23, when Andrich's strengths were useful to their counter-attacking approach.

This perhaps also explains why he lost his starting spot to Exequiel Palacios at the start of the campaign. The Argentine is an equally combative midfielder, but perhaps offers a bit more with the ball than Andrich. That trade-off doesn't seem to be as significant anymore, with Alonso happy to allow the German to start more and more. 

Watch: Bayer Leverkusen's control centre

As the kind of midfielder whose forward movement is limited, it is ultimately important that when he does have possession, he remains efficient. To underline his efficiency, in a Leverkusen squad blessed with many a technician, Andrich ranking in the top 10 for his pass completion rate attests to Alonso's coaching ability to improve a player to such a considerable extent.

To put that further into context, Andrich's first two seasons at Leverkusen saw him record 84.9 percent and 88 percent in 2021/22 and 2022/23 respectively for the same metric. The progression is plain to see: Andrich is a reliable distributor of the ball and knows that he does his best work when he keeps it simple.

This is not to say that he isn't capable of making difficult long-range passes. However, in a Leverkusen team with the likes of Xhaka, Florian Wirtz and Jonas Hofmann, he simply does not need to.

Andrich's simplicity in possession is of great value to Leverkusen. - DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga

As well as being reliable in possession, Andrich is an invaluable outlet with his movement off the ball to make himself available to receive a pass when a fellow teammate is under pressure. He is often the escape route in Leverkusen's half from where he can link up with players running off the ball. Moreover, by staying close to Xhaka in the build-up, his midfield partner in the double pivot always has an easy passing option.

Andrich the goalscorer

With six goals scored in all competitions this term, Andrich has been involved in some huge moments in a season to remember for Alonso's players.

Scoring in back-to-back games against VfB Stuttgart and Roma most recently, Andrich has shown an eye for the spectacular from outside the box. Goals from range has been a speciality of his, thanks to his ability to strike the ball clean and true.

The Bayer midfielder has attempted 21 shots in the Bundesliga this term and scored four from an Expected Goals (xG) figure of 1.7, combining shots from distance along with his ability to be there in the right place at the right time against opponents like Hoffenheim, as well as Stuttgart.

Watch: Xabi Alonso praises Robert Andrich

In addition to his goals, Andrich's versatility has also been a welcome boon for Leverkusen. Last season, Alonso fielded the defensive midfielder in a libero-style role in the middle of the back three, and he excelled in a 1-1 draw against Freiburg.

"He played very, very well in that position. He was like a libero. He defended in the middle. Rob is a very important player for us with his character and personality. He always wants to win and is always there," said Alonso after the game.

Those intangible qualities he brings to the pitch are an undeniably important part of Andrich's game. It is exactly the kind of character that has helped him climb up the German football ladder.

Andrich's profile is a refreshing throwback in an era where deep-lying defensive midfielders are tasked with more and more responsibility in possession. Despite his limitations, his strengths have made any compromises worth it for Alonso as well as Nagelsmann, who only has positive things to say about Andrich.

"We wanted a different profile at the No.6 position," said the Germany coss after calling up Andrich back in October. "He's someone who can be incredibly active defensively and be a bit of a destroyer. He has an exceptional winning mentality and a sense of responsibility defensively when we need to hold onto a result." 

The Potsdam native's career path shows aspiring midfielders that there is more than one way to the top, and it is never too late to reach the elite level. At the age of 29, this late bloomer is only just getting started.