There are very few things in the Premier League that can be predicted to some accuracy. Just when you think you’ve got it right, you will be proved wrong by a league that has proved may predictions wrong in the past. And in the ongoing campaign, many had predicted that Hull City were done and dusted some weeks ago, but Marco Silva’s heroics have proved those naysayers wrong rather soundly.
When Mike Phelan was axed as the Tigers’ boss in early January, Hull were rock-bottom in the league and the favourites to go down after 20 games in. The former Manchester United assistant boss had been in charge at the KC Stadium for just 82 days as the Tigers had managed to win just one in as many as 18 Premier League games. Despite making a rather surprising start, that saw Hull upset reigning Champions Leicester and beat Francesco Guidolin’s Swansea, Phelan’s men failed to build on an impressive start. Their inability to rack up a single win in Phelan’s last nine games at the club acted as a death-knell for a side that was said to be destined to drop back into the Championship at that time, at least.
Marco Silva’s appointment probably led to a sharp rise in the number of people who googled out his name, only to realise that he is someone who Jose Mourinho previously raved about. Having formerly been in-charge of Sporting Lisbon and Olympiakos, this was Hull’s first venture in the Premier League and the timing of his appointment wasn’t met with particular excitement by anyone. A month on, the 39-year-old Portuguese has won the trust of every single Hull fan and not just that, he has succeeded in transforming the aura of the club more quickly than most would have expected.
The recent 2-0 win over Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool acted as a resounding proof to those who had questions even a bit of Silva’s approach at this new club. Hull have won four games in all competitions since Silva’s appointment, despite the sales of Robert Snodgrass and Jake Livermore to West Ham and West Brom respectively. The loss to Fulham was a bit of a let-down, but Hull now lie just a single point adrift of 15th placed Middlesbrough and are 18th in the table. Their league position may not be too pleasing, but it’s Hull’s changed approach to the game that is forcing many to sit up and take notice.
How would probably get a glimpse of Silva’s pragmatic and meticulous approach to the game if you have a look his first training session. He was intent on putting players into their positions and a close look at it shows how he is pulling players and showing them exactly where to stand while defending. That, in itself, is enough to prove how much emphasis he places on organisation and maintaining the shape of his side when they are defending. And staying organised defensively has become the most prominent aspect of Silva’s system. Their performance against Manchester United in the second leg of the League Cup semi-final saw them frustrate the Red Devils and grab a late winner of their own. Against Liverpool too, Silva’s side wasn’t broken down at all by Klopp’s side, that registered 21 shots on target. Hull achieved the win with just 27 percent of possession. They had seven shots on target, but scored twice. Their shot conversion shows the pragmatic approach that Silva has taken at KCOM.
The manner in which Silva takes to his training sessions has brought about a change in the routine of some players for the team’s own good. They now last a half an hour more than they used to. Apart from that, there has been a rise in the usage of video analysis systems, that makes use of video screens to have a look what the next opposition is likely to offer and every detail broken down to a larger extent than it used to under Phelan.
While that has contributed a lot to Hull’s structure at the back, there has been a clear rise in the confidence with which they defend. Winter signing Evandro drops deep quite often to form a five-man midfield and offer more cover for the back line. This has made Hull a side that is tough to break down and far less porous than it was before. The clean-sheet at Old Trafford and the 2-0 win over Liverpool are clear signs that Hull certainly are a tough nut to crack.
Apart from that, the usage of Tom Huddlestone has made the former Tottenham midfielder a more box-to-box commodity than how he was used by Steve Bruce and Phelan. The Englishman has the license to supply balls forward and bomb forward himself, complementing the side in doing things that doesn’t coincide with sitting in front of the back four. Huddlestone has already praised his new boss for the start that he has made: “Wherever the ball is on the pitch and whatever system we play we know exactly what is and what isn’t required of us, with and without the ball.”
Moreover, the new signings that Silva has brought in this winter have worked out rather effortlessly. When Robert Snodgrass was offloaded to West Ham, it was initially believed that the Tigers would struggle to cope in the absence of the former Norwich man. But, the players that have been roped in have done well enough to force Hull fans into forgetting about Snodgrass’ quality. Oumar Niasse has been one of Hull’s best players since Silva’s appointment and the clever usage of Evandro, who was acquired from Porto, has brought about a never-seen-before balance to the side.
The duo of Alfred N’Diaye and Kamil Grosicki enjoyed an impressive debut against Liverpool and it was their hard-working mentality and work-ethic that helped Hull in sticking to their plan of staying organized at the back. Another winter capture Andrea Ranocchia came up with a man of the match showing against the Reds after going down as a rather degraded transfer. The Italian defender, whose form has slumped since enjoying an impressive season as captain in 2013, was never expected to be signing who would stand out. The amount of game-time that he had been given at Inter and at Bologna last season was enough to suggest that Ranocchia isn’t the player that he was once upon a time. Questions were raised about whether he would adapt to the physical demands of the Premier League as quickly as the relegation battle would want, but Ranocchia has risen to the occasion. And it does seem as if Silva has made a very shrewd signing in the former Inter skipper.
Not just that, but Silva also believes in getting his team accustomed to the game much before the opposition. It’s said that Hull now arrive at the KCOM Stadium at mid-morning, after which they get together for a pre-game meal and a team meeting. This is aimed at bringing in a feeling of collectiveness and belongingness into the side and is an attempt to make sure that the players believe in themselves.
While, the effect of the new system and manner of looking at the game has been profound and discernible, it has pleased a vast majority of Hull fans. Their current league position may not look too fashionable from the outside, but it’s just the beginning of an era that could well prove to be the most defining one in the history of this small club from Yorkshire.