$10m blow triggers intriguing McGree experiment as Aussies debut across Europe: KEEPUP Beyond the A-Leagues

From England’s EFL Championship to the Belgian Pro League and 2.Bundesliga, KEEPUP has you covered on all the Aussie-related news outside the A-Leagues.

McGree, the left-back?

Australian and Middlesbrough fans are so used to seeing Riley McGree playing as an attacker, but the Socceroo was trialled as a left-back in a pre-season friendly against French outfit Auxerre this week.

Boro and Auxerre played out a 2-2 draw as Michael Carrick’s side prepare for the EFL Championship to kick-off but the biggest talking point was McGree’s position.

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After Hayden Coulson – Boro’s only recognised left-back – was withdrawn due to injury, the A-Leagues graduate was thrown into the role by Manchester United legend Carrick.

While fellow Australian Sammy Silvera replaced Coulson at half-time, it was McGree who was removed from his position on the left side of midfield and placed at left-back.

The experiment saw McGree sit in defence out of possession but when Boro had the ball, the former Adelaide United, Newcastle Jets and Melbourne City attacker moved back into midfield, where he scored six goals and supplied three assists last season.

“Hayden did take a knock but we were planning on having a look at something different in the second half anyway. It was a bit of both in the end,” Carrick said, with his Premier League-chasing squad also boasting ex-Melbourne City goalkeeper Tom Glover.

“We just looked at it trying to have an extra threat on the backline and using Sammy’s speed and still using Riley in his normal role when we have the ball.

“Obviously he had a slightly different role defensively but it was something we just wanted to look at. How much we use it we’ll have to wait and see but it was something we wanted to look at.”

Boro, who lost in the Championship play-off semi-finals in 2022-23, kick-off their season this week.

It will be fascinating to see if McGree does spend some time playing at left-back as Carrick reshuffles to deal with the loss of Ryan Giles, who Boro were interested in signing permanently following a very successful loan stint from Wolves that yielded 11 assists, before he joined Premier League side Luton Town for £5 million (A$10m).

Carrick’s men are at home to Millwall on August 5 (August 6 AEST).

Debuts in Belgium and an assist in Germany

There were debuts right across the Belgian Pro League as the 2023-24 season kicked off over the weekend.

Aussie sensation Jordy Bos started as Westerlo played out a thrilling 2-2 draw away to Jason Davidson’s KAS Eupen.

Westerlo overturned a two-goal deficit, equalising in the 91st minute to salvage a point on Bos’ bow.

The 20-year-old full-back and Socceroo made the move to Belgium’s top flight after leaving Isuzu UTE A-League premiers Melbourne City in what was a record outbound fee in Australia before Marco Tilio’s switch to Scottish champions Celtic in the off-season.

His debut performance away to Eupen caught the eye, comprising 55 completed passes, two tackles and seeing him win 14 duels, the most of any Westerlo player. Bos’ 99 touches were the second-most of any player on the day.

Eupen also featured an Australian, with Jason Davidson playing a full 90 minutes in defence.

Bos’ former Melbourne City teammate Aiden O’Neill was also in action in Belgium, where his Standard Liege fell to Sint-Truiden 1-0 on matchday one.

The Socceroos midfielder, who has returned to Europe having previously played in the Premier League with Burnley, started and played the entire game on the road, racking up team-highs in both clearances (three) and tackles (four), while completing 41 of his 43 pass attempts (93%).

Before making his debut on Monday (AEST), the 25-year-old spoke about possibly returning to the Premier League.

“I know that many players have used the Belgian championship as a springboard to the biggest championships. The Premier League? Once you’ve tasted it, you definitely want to go back. 

“I know that many English clubs watch the Belgian championship. And then, I wanted to test myself and I think this championship is the right one. When I discovered that Standard was a very big club in Belgium, it made me want to come.”

In Germany’s second tier, Australian pair Jackson Irvine and Connor Metcalfe enjoyed a winning start to the 2.Bundesliga season.

St Pauli’s captain, Irvine provided an assist as the promotion hopefuls defeated Kaiserslautern 2-1 as Metcalfe also started.

Former Wanderer makes first appearance

Calem Nieuwenhof only just made the move to Hearts but the Australian midfielder had his first taste of European football on Sunday (Monday AEST).

The former Western Sydney Wanderers star – whose arrival takes the club’s Aussie contingent to four with Kye Rowles, Cam Devlin and Nathaniel Atkinson also in Edinburgh – started in the 1-0 friendly loss to Leeds United.

He started alongside Rowles and Atkinson against a Leeds team that were relegated from the Premier League last season.

“I thought both of them did well. Frankie speaks well, he is a leader on the pitch, and I think you can see that,” Hearts head coach Frankie McAvoy said of debutants Nieuwenhof and Frankie Kent.

“Calem showed good moments within the game. It will just take him a wee bit of time to adjust to the pace of the game.

“Obviously, the pace of Leeds is a bit different to what we will face every week in Scotland, but it is good to play against opposition like this.

“The pair of them have just come in this week and have had their first week in training and they have both settled in really well.” 

Growing game time for Brighton’s Aussie

Cameron Peupion made his Premier League debut last season and the Brighton and Hove Albion sensation is continuing to make an impression heading into 2023-24.

Last season, the former Sydney FC youngster became the 55th Australian to play in the Premier League – making a cameo against Newcastle United in May.

Having impressed manager Roberto De Zerbi, Peupion was included in the pre-season squad to tour the United States and the 20-year-old enjoyed extended minutes.

In a 2-0 win over Brentford, he was handed 20 minutes off the bench in Atlanta, having been an unused substitute against Chelsea.

Against Newcastle last week, Peupion was a 58th-minute substitute as Brighton – playing in Europe this season – lost 2-1 in New Jersey.