August 6, 2016, Hull City play a preseason friendly against Torino with 13 fit senior players. The performance, although a good one it still resulted in a 2-1 defeat.
In the preseason, Hull City sacked Steve Bruce, suffered a spate of injuries and had negligible transfer activity. All of this made them favourites for relegation this season. But a lot of people were taken aback with the back to back victories Hull achieved in the first two matches.
The performances were splendid and had all the elements to show that the victories were not a fluke. But what followed was a wretched run of form for Mike Phelan and his charges as they went from one low point to another. Nevertheless, common consensus still was in favour of Mike Phelan and many blamed the squad for the team’s struggles.
His replacement, though, has made a mockery of this statement as Marco Silva and his team have won 4 and drawn 1 of their last 7 matches.
Hull City’s recent performances have been majestic and flawless which is mainly due to their new manager. He has struck a good balance between attack and defence and made Hull surprise survival favourites. Add to that a transfer window of upheaval in which they lost their two best players only makes the performances more convincing. Silva has been exceptional in communicating his demands to the players.
The Portuguese manager made his name coaching a small side (Estoril) in Portugal to great effect, his philosophy is simple; WHIP. A philosophy which is easy to interpret and is good for small clubs but needs significant coaching.
It focuses on maintaining shape out of possession and utilising the space on the flanks to get the ball upfield for attackers and midfield runners to make use of while in possession.
Although fairly straightforward, this is one of the most difficult philosophies to play as it requires great discipline and precision. Exactly how Silva has drilled the side to effectively carry out his instructions without a full pre-season is astonishing.
Role in making signings
With the Hull scouting system is in tatters, Silva has also been great at earmarking his targets. He has pursued his targets with conviction and had roles figured out for each beforehand. Hull made a raft of signings in the last window and almost all of them have settled nicely into the team.
Of the signings, Evandro has solved the lack of thrust in the midfield; Rannochia has given an important option at the back which was understaffed after the departure of Alex Bruce to Wigan; Markovic and Grosicki have enough attacking nous to compensate for the departure of top scorer Snodgrass. N’Diaye has shown enough in his solitary appearance that he can replace the imposing Jack Livermore and Elabdellaoui has plugged a glaring hole at right back.
The most intriguing of all signings has been Oumar Niasse, whose January move last year to Everton from Russia was a complete disaster. He failed to score a goal last season and was not given a squad number by Ronald Koeman before the start of this season. When Hull signed him, it was emblematic of the mismanagement going on at the club. Fast forward 20 days, he is symbolic of the improvement Hull have gone through under Silva. He is a relentless runner, is strong and has improved his hold up play under Silva.
He bagged his first goal in England against Liverpool, a cool finish under Mignolet which was his USP in Russia while playing with Lokomotiv.
Improvements in existing players
Improvements have been made by the existing squad members too, which includes the return of the silky, quick thinking Tom Huddlestone of 2012. Huddlestone is in imperious form and has been instrumental in the Hull revival. He plays the important role of assisting from midfield with his pinpoint passes (like his one touch pass to Andrew Robertson for Hull’s equaliser against Bournemouth) and converting defence into attack in the blink of an eye.
His form is pivotal to Hull’s survival push as he is literally irreplaceable in the Hull squad.
Harry Maguire has also been extremely good and has grasped his chance in the Premier League with both hands. His ball playing abilities have been pivotal in the execution of Marco Silva’s philosophy.
While striker, Abel Hernandez has made a comeback from injury and is at his menacing best. He is a strong option and is a perfect combination pace and power though his decision making is a bit ‘iffy’ at times. His and Niasse’s goals will be the main factor in the Tiger’s survival.
Andrew Robertson was always a great crosser and dribbler, under Silva he has added to it with more defensive nous. He was subject to interest from Burnley on deadline day who bid £10 Million for him but Hull dug in and kept him which shows how highly Marco Silva values him. Curtis Davies and Michael Dawson have also returned to their best after an extremely uncertain period in defence under Mike Phelan when 4+ differential defeats were commonplace.
Sam Clucas has continued his impressive season, after performing well in midfield earlier in the season, he has performed well in his preferred position on the wing too where his diligent tracking back has stood out. The Portuguese manager has quickly built a team at Hull, he has communicated his requirements quickly and kept it simple. He hasn’t over-complicated his style of play which is also a reason why his signings have settled so quickly.
He is a master motivator and tactically astute, and with a squad of his choice at place at Hull, there is no reason Silva cannot go on to ensure survival for the club.
His team is playing old fashioned football with a high work rate, disciplined press triggers and marking, hold up play from strikers, an old fashioned midfield consisting of 1 devoted destroyer, 1 devoted creator and 1 box-to-box presence.
Hull’s performances remind everybody of the early part of the millennium when playing like this was the norm.
Can Marco Silva prolong this renaissance beyond this season?
Hull City, given they survive can go on to achieve a top 10 position next season if Marco Silva continues in such vein (their performances suggest so).
But such is the nature of this season’s relegation battle and Hull’s early season form that these exceptional performances are still not enough to say that they have a chance of survival, competition is tough but Hull seem to be ready to give a fight.