The Season So Far
Hull City’s only aim this season was avoiding relegation and, as almost everyone has already realised, it’s going to be damn near impossible. Ex-manager Steve Bruce quit in July, having appraised the campaign ahead of him and realised that there was no way to save this sinking ship. It’s hard not to sympathise with Bruce: given the fact that they only had 12 first-team players to put on the pitch and the level of constant upheaval off it, he was on a hiding to nothing. He’s quite clearly better off beating Championship sides every week at Aston Villa than getting destroyed in the Premier League at Hull.
Replacement manager Mike “Yes, Fergie” Phelan was well-known to the players and the staff beforehand, having previously been Bruce’s assistant, and he has done well to foster a siege mentality and create a tight bond between his players. With such a small squad and such a simple aim, in some ways it’s not surprising that morale is high: basically every player knows they’re first choice and nailed on to play ninety minutes every week, and that generally makes footballers very happy.
That said, they’re odds on to spend those ninety minutes being humiliated every week, and that’s not fun at all. They’ve only won once since August and early thumpings at the hands of Arsenal and Liverpool will have been the first of many this season. Spurs should be looking to add another here.
The Season Ahead
Turn up. Get thumped. Go home. Pray for it all to be over.
Phelan has wisely kept things simple so far this season, beginning with a tight and boxy 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 designed to absorb pressure and frustrate more talented opposition while also providing his side with obvious and effective escape strategies, and later moving onto an even more defensive 3-5-1-1. It’s not clear which he’ll favour for this game – in recent weeks he’s alternated between the two.
In any case, flooding the centre of the pitch with bodies and minimising the opposition’s chances of passing towards goal is Phelan’s principle aim, while Andrew Robertson, Robert Snodgrass and Adama Diomande will be Hull’s most dangerous options on the counter-attack. One of many ex-Spurs in the squad, Ryan Mason poses a threat with his lung-busting runs into the box from deep positions, like a horribly inadequate, budget Frank Lampard.
Phelan’s is a sensible strategy given his side’s glaring weaknesses and his modest goal of not getting thrashed in every game, but it’s also one that falls apart if Hull concede an early goal. With Kyle Walker and Danny Rose likely to have the freedom of North London here, Spurs will have all of the ball. If they can breach the Tigers’ defence in the first fifteen minutes, Hull will have to come out and attack and Tottenham could have a party.
Nice kit colours. Fun nickname. Likeable manager.
[Ed: be serious, Rob]
Ahem. Seriously speaking: Phelan is a good coach and Hull are not bad at keeping a decent defensive shape. Playing very much without the ball – only four Premier League teams have a lower average possession figure – they work hard to stop the opposition advancing: 17.8 tackles per game, 14.9 interceptions per game and 1.6 offsides won per game are respectable figures, while they also make a high number of clearances per game (29.6) and only Burnley block more shots per game (5.7).
Also, Robert Snodgrass is pretty good.
Even taking into account that they know they’re terrible and that they’re set up just to keep the score respectable, Hull are seriously – seriously – bad.
Playing defensively works if you’re good at limiting chances and/or you’ve got a keeper. If you’re bad at limiting chances and your keeper’s crap, it all falls apart. Case in point: Hull have allowed a ridiculous 19.3 shots on their goal per game this season – only the equally defensive and dour Burnley have allowed more. 5.9 of those shots have ended up on target, and only 63.6% have been saved. Put simply, it’s extremely easy to make chances against them and there’s a very good chance their goalkeeper won’t save much.
Their transition from defence to attack is abysmal and unless Snodgrass has a dead ball to stand over, they’ve basically no way of creating chances or scoring goals. They’ve only attempted 9.6 shots per game this season and only 3.3 of those have been on target, both among the league’s very lowest figures.
They’re just so, so, so, so terrible.
Most of the team is nailed on but there will be changes if Phelan ditches the 3-5-1-1 and reverts to a back four against Spurs’ inevitable 4-2-3-1. A raft of injuries and suspensions has left the desperately mediocre Adama Diomande as Hull’s only option up front. Besides that, there will be plenty of familiar faces on display: Michael Dawson, Jake Livermore, Ryan Mason and Tom Huddlestone all return to White Hart Lane, with the latter two competing for one starting spot.
The only thing stopping Spurs winning this 10-0 is fatigue. A less interesting, instantly forgettable 2-0 awaits.