The Story So Far
Hull started the season in promising form under Mike Phelan, despite the behind-the-scenes turmoil that saw Steve Bruce quit upon promotion, leaving his successor with just 13 first-team players. Two wins from three saw the caretaker boss named Premier League Manager of the Month for August, but things went rapidly downhill with just seven points gained from the next 51 available.
Phelan had Hull playing well, but the solid performances did not translate into results, and ultimately he paid the price. His replacement, Marco Silva, was widely mocked in the media, not least by Soccer Saturday pundits Paul Merson and Phil Thompson, who said:
I could win the league with Olympiakos. I am not even joking. They’ve won it 107 times and it’s only been going 106 years. 44, 43 times they’ve won it.
You know this is a good job as well, Hull are a good team, it’s a great stadium, some very good players you know and… what does he know about Hull? What does he know about the Premier League? What does he know?
- Paul Merson
It is quite astonishing that they have plumped for someone like this. I totally agree, it is baffling when there are a lot of people out there who know about the Premier League, know what’s required to dig in. He’s not got a clue. He’s [received] manna from heaven to be given this job on his CV. From League One, League Two, who wouldn't jump at the chance to come in there? Who know about the league, who know what’s required here. He doesn’t know what’s required here. That is the difference.
- Phil Thompson
But Silva has shown his quality and has Hull on the verge of a superb escape from relegation. With an impressive attention to detail and some wheeling-and-dealing in the January transfer window despite losing both Robert Snodgrass and Jake Livermore, Silva has amassed 21 points from 15 games.
One of the first areas addressed by Marco Silva when he arrived on Humberside was organisation. The top priority is for his team to be well-organised in a rigid defensive structure, allowing them to counter-attack when they retrieve the ball.
Hull are likely to line-up in a 4-2-3-1, which allows Silva's side to make quick and effective transitions between defence and attack. When the opposition is in possession of the ball, Hull tend to shift to a 4-1-4-1, with one central midfielder dropping deeper into a defensive midfield role, while the attacking midfield drops back to form a line of four and crowd the central areas. In this set-up, the one defensive midfielder is tasked with patrolling the area between defence and midfield to provide an extra layer of protection. It is his job to ensure that the central defenders aren't overexposed. Both wingers maintain their width, providing support to their full back, and sometimes drift inside to track their man (but never too far infield).
Rather than committing to all-out press as Liverpool would, for example, Hull tend to harry opponents before retreating to their defensive structure. The aim is to shadow the ball and force the opposition into making errors, rather than actively seeking it. This then allows them to counter-attack as a unit as opposed to with one or two individuals. This partly explains why Hull rank low in number of tackles (16.8), but high in interceptions per game (15.1).
Hull's attack is all about movement and creating options. Typically, one of their holding midfielders will advance, acting as a deep pivot to control the ball and distribute it to the options in front of him.
Silva also encourages his full-backs to get forward and provide extreme width - they can either provide an option for the midfielder to pass to or to link with the attacking midfielders to create space and passing angles. Using their full backs, Kamil Grosicki and Lazar Markovic will either drive in field, linking with Evandro and Oumar Niasse, or attack the byline to cross the ball. Either way, it ensures that there's a variety of options for Hull to choose from.
Lone-forward Niasse tends to move into space towards the ball, offering himself as a pawn in which to create space and movement off the ball through his own movement.
Note: a great article from Outside of the Boot explores Silva’s tactical approach for those interested in a more detailed insight into Hull’s new style of play.
The turnaround in Hull's fortunes since Marco Silva arrived at the KCOM Stadium has been quite remarkable. When Mike Phelan departed Humberside, Hull had scored the least goals (17) in the division. Since Silva arrived, they've scored the 11th most with 19, scoring one goal per five chances created on average.
Hull are particularly strong in the air. During this period, they've won 52% of their aerial duels, representing the 4th best record in the division. As a result, they've scored six goals from set pieces (14 in total for the season) and five goals from corners, the joint highest amount in the league.
Silva has brought a high level of defensive organisation to Hull. It's not a superb record by any means, but they've conceded 23 goals in 15 games under his management (the 6th most in the league), compared to 44 in 20 under Phelan (the 2nd most in the league). There's certainly been an improvement. Part of this is down to the fact that they've made 735 defensive actions, the 2nd most since his arrival at the club.
As mentioned above, while Hull's defensive organisation has improved, they've still conceded 23 goals, the 6th most in the league, since Silva arrived at the club. However, it's unlikely to concern Hull, for now at least, as long as they continue to pick up points.
And while they've been statistically strong in the air during this period, they've conceded five goals from headers, which represents the joint 2nd most in the league. They've also conceded a worrying 16 goals from set pieces across the season.
Hull's attacking play has undoubtedly improved, but they rank low in terms of shot accuracy (40%), chances created (93) and shots taken (140). These numbers represent the 2nd lowest and lowest in the league respectively. While they've scored the 11th most goals since Silva arrived, can they continue to rely on their rate of one goal scored per five chances created, or will these low numbers catch up to them?
Key Player - Harry Maguire
Harry Maguire has had to bide his time for an opportunity to play regularly in the Premier League. Signed by Steve Bruce in 2014, the former Sheffield United defender made just three cameo appearances in his debut season, eventually joining Championship Wigan in January 2015. Despite Hull's relegation, Maguire struggled to find his way into the team for their Championship campaign, featuring in just 22 games (17 starts).
Upon their return to the Premier League, Maguire featured in just seven of Hull's first 14 games, completing the 90 minutes just twice. But since his return to the starting line-up in December, Maguire has been almost undroppable, featuring in 20 of the last 21 games (and playing the full 90 in 19 of those), and has recently been given the captain's armband, in the absence of others, by Marco Silva.
Standing at 6 feet 2 inches, Maguire is a commanding physical presence at the back, winning 2.5 aerial duels per game and making an average of five clearances. He's also a danger at the opposite end of the pitch, scoring two goals and registering a further two assists. An impressive 1.9 tackles and 2.2 interceptions per game make him a difficult proposition for opposing attackers, while his ability to effortlessly carry the ball out of defence, and hit long balls makes him a valuable cog as Hull look to quickly turn defence into attack.
Transfer links to the likes of Tottenham Hotspur come as little surprise.
- Hull have won just one of their four previous home Premier League games against Sunderland and have never scored more than one goal in any of those games;
- Marco Silva is unbeaten in 41 home games;
- A win for Hull would see Silva equal Steve Bruce's record of seven home wins in a Premier League season, set in 2013/14;
- Hull are the only side not to score against Sunderland this season;
- Jermain Defoe has scored four times in five Premier League games against Hull;
- Hull have scored at least two goals in seven of their last eight home games.