Breaking into the Adelaide United first team as a 17-year-old and earning a move to Club Brugge a year later, Riley McGree looked to have a very promising career ahead of him. Following two loan spells back to Australia and a Puskas Award nomination, he completed a permanent switch in 2019. Back with his first club, McGree has continued to impress and has enjoyed his best season to date.
This tactical analysis will look at the tactics which have allowed the midfielder to flourish. This analysis will look at his abilities and what he can do to elevate his game to the next level.
As his heatmap shows, McGree is an all-action attacking midfielder. He was used in a variety of positions and systems by manager Gertjan Verbeek who has now left his role. He has been used most commonly as a central midfielder in a 4-3-3. However, he has also featured in various roles in a 4-2-3-1 and as a second striker in a 4-4-2. This demonstrates that McGree is a tremendously versatile midfielder as he has also chipped in with goals and assists from each of these roles. When used in the central midfield roles, McGree likes to drive wide with the ball. This works with Adelaide’s tactics as their wingers tend to sit narrow to support the lone striker.
McGree has been an integral part of Adelaide’s side, starting 18 times. He is also the side’s top goal-scorer and assist-maker with 10 goals and four assists this season. These statistics show that he is a midfielder who looks to get involved in the attacking phase. His performances would be pivotal in Adelaide winning the FFA Cup with McGree getting a goal and assist in the final.
As mentioned above, McGree has contributed a good amount of goals this season and sits seventh in the goal-scoring charts. His nine non-penalty goals is the best in the league for players in his position. While he also outscores his xG of 7.56 demonstrating he has a good finishing ability. Averaging more than a goal every other game, his numbers are very impressive with this generally being perceived as a good scoring rate for a striker, let alone a midfielder.
As shown above, McGree tends to take a lot of his shots in the box. This has allowed the majority of his goals as he takes up good positions.
As shown below, McGree pushes forward at the back with the ball on the opposite side. The ball is played to Kristian Ospeth in the box who turns and shoots. As the ball comes off the post, McGree arrives at the right time for a simple finish. With McGree attacking the blindside of the defender it is difficult to track his run. This is helped by the overload which he creates as the right-back has two men to pick up. As the right-side centre-back closes down Ospeth the right-back is left in two minds whether to pick up his man or track McGree’s run. This attacking intelligence and game awareness makes him a threat when the ball is in and around the box.
While his ability to find space in the box helps to create a lot of his goals, McGree also gets a lot of shots using his dribbling ability. He is physically strong and can hold off defenders while also having the technical ability to get away from them.
In the example below, he receives the ball and takes a touch out wide as he looks to turn the defender. He is strong enough to stay on his feet and outpace the defender. This allows him to drive into the box and finish the one-on-one. This also highlights his tendency to drift into wide areas. In this case the winger had dropped deep leaving space for McGree.
While McGree is more of a goal-scorer than a creator, he is still more than capable of setting up his teammates. His four assists this season see him sit ninth in the league and fifth among attacking midfielders. He can supply his teammates chances through a variety of methods. As shown in the analysis below, he gets balls into the penalty area from a variety of positions and techniques. Again, it can be noted that there are a number of carries which is a feature of his game completing 4.6 dribbles a game.
McGree’s dribbling ability allows him to create chances both for himself and his teammates. He is physically strong and can hold off defenders while also having the technical ability to get away from them.
In the example below, he receives the ball and takes a touch out wide as he looks to turn the defender. He is strong enough to stay on his feet and outpace the defender. This allows him to drive into the box and finish the one-on-one. This also highlights his tendency to drift into wide areas. In this case, the winger had dropped deep leaving space for McGree.
His ability to drive wide with the ball is also useful when creating opportunities. In the example below, McGree wins the ball in the centre of the park however doesn’t fully have it under control. He knocks the ball around the defender and uses his pace to drive out wide. He beats his man and breaks into the box. This allows him to play a low cross to Blackwood to score.
This could be a factor of his game which McGree could look to take advantage of more often. This season he has completed an average of 1.95 crosses per 90 while the top crosser in the league (Robbie Kruse) completes just short of 5. With Kruse being a winger, he’ll naturally find himself in more crossing positions however, when compared with other midfielders it is still an area which could be improved upon.
Statistically, McGree is one of the best attacking midfielders in the league when it comes to pressing. He looks to win the ball back quickly when it is lost which is shown in the analysis below. These statistics show his aggression in the final third which is another strength in his game. While it could be easy to think he’d make more fouls due to this approach that’s not the case. He only makes 1.08 fouls per game which is less than a number of players in his position. He also has a good disciplinary record with only two yellow cards and no red cards this season.
An example of McGree’s aggressive pressing can be seen below. His left-back, Michaël Maria, brings the ball forward and plays a poor pass which is intercepted. McGree instantly gets touch tight to the defender and hassles him out into the wide space. This allows him to use the touchline and another teammate who joins the press to close angles. He eventually pushes him onto the touchline and wins the ball while his team have plenty of bodies forward.
This pressing style helps McGree to fit into Adelaide’s tactics. When the ball is lost, the closest player will spring the press while the rest of the team get into their defensive shape. This was shown in the example above. After Maria misplaced his pass he dropped back into position. This then allowed the other midfielder to join McGree in pressing the ball. A less energetic player may not be able to react as quickly as McGree which would be detrimental to his side in the defensive phase.
This aggressive pressing doesn’t make McGree a headless chicken, however. He can also be disciplined and stay in formation when instructed to do so. Below, when he lost a duel and the ball moved wide it could be expected he follows it in an effort to win it back. However, he instead holds his shape staying tight to his man, closing a passing lane.
This isn’t always the case though as he can also be caught out of position defensively. In the example below, he is caught out high up the park. This allows his opponent lots of room on the edge of the box. On this occasion, however, he does manage to get back into position and win the ball. This lapse of concentration which allowed his man space could on a different day result in conceding a goal or good chance.
Riley McGree has clearly enjoyed a fruitful season and relished being a key member of Adelaide United’s squad. The 21-year-old demonstrates a real goal threat in and around the area. Although he has chipped in a decent amount of creative actions, this is certainly an area he could look to improve on if he is to make a move back to Europe.
It’s unlikely he would be able to make the step up to one of Europe’s top leagues such as the Premier League. However, he is now a more developed player than when he first moved to Europe three years ago. With interest from Celtic and Rangers in the last few years, this could be the type of move to suit him. If he is successful in his next move he could become a key player for the national side as well.
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