03 December 2013

Hull City Tactical Preview

After Hull famously defeated Liverpool 3-1 on Sunday, I celebrated a trifecta: Suarez suffered, Liverpool dropped a vital three points, and a newly-promoted side won. That last one I love to see as often as possible except, of course, when we're involved. The scoreline from Sunday initially made me wonder just how wary we should be, and we should be wary, but no more so than we might have been before they kicked things off at KC Stadium. After all, for as hard as Hull played to earn a victory, Liverpool's performance was a bumbling comedy of Keystone Kop-quality errors: shoddy defending, tepid attacking, and an all-around limpness that would see Liverpool plummet down the table should it persist. Sturridge's absence, said to be 6-8 weeks, is going to heap pressure on Suarez, and we all know how well Bitey McRacist handles pressure. Should be fun.

Back to Hull. They deserve credit for a famous win, perhaps their most famous since, well, since winning 2-1 at the Emirates back in September 2008. There's not much to be taken away from that one, of course, as it was five years ago. The only players involved in that match who are still present would be Sagna and Walcott for us (okay, and Bendtner) and Paul McShane for them. Then again, McShane was credited with an own-goal on that day, so we might want to remember him. More important of course are the current squads. I'm sure we're familiar with our lot, although there should be some rotation, not that we're overlooking this one. December offers another grueling stretch of matches, and to drop points against a mid-table team (Hull sits 10th, just four points behind Spurs) is just not something that clubs with serious ambition do. With that in mind, we should be able to bring in some fresh legs without suffering a huge drop-off in quality. Aside from Bendtner, each man I've named has been a regular first-teamer who has made strong contributions and is someone from whom we should expect a quality performance.

For as tenacious as Hull has been at home (4 wins, 2 draws, 1 loss; +4 GD), they've been toothless away (1 win, no draws, 5 losses; -8 GD) with their only win over Newcastle in the season's fifth week. As to how they'll probably line up, we should see something similar to what we saw when we faced Liverpool, albeit with less of an attacking edge: a 3-5-2. This formation works well when your defenders are agile, strong in the air, and astute positionally. I'm not sure how true this is of Hull's back three, and we should find or create plenty of space on the flanks as Hull's defenders try to sit tight and central. Starting Walcott on the right should give him plenty of space for his trademark runs, both to take shots and to stretch their defense out of shape. If he can pull Maynor Figueroa out of position, the openings that will present themselves to Rosicky, Cazorla, Ramsey, and Bendtner could multiply exponentially. On the other side, I was tempted to start Gnabry even if most of his time has been on the right. His preference to stay wide might work similar havoc on Hull's shape, but I think Cazorla is ready for a break-out performance. His dribble should be enough to see him round Davies and Bruce more than once in a while.

From the midfield, we should dominate possession even more than usual as Hull's formation and tactics seem to concede possession and look to attack in short bursts through long-balls up to Koren and Sagbo, who only have scored two goals between them so far. In other words, they don't quite pose the attacking threat that Suarez and Sturridge do (and which we snuffed out completely a month ago). Rosicky's high-press should disrupt a lot of Hull's counters; when he's in, he buzzes around the edge of the opponent's box and seizes loose balls almost as soon as they're created. Behind him, Flamini and Ramsey should be more than up to the task of snuffing out long balls even before they're launched, and when long balls do get through, we've seen in the past that our back line, even with a number of substitutions, is drilled and skilled enough to absorb such pressure.

I think we'll see big games from Cazorla and Walcott, both because of the openings they should see for themselves and because both are due. Walcott hasn't netted since 18 September against Marseille; Cazorla, not since 2 November against Liverpool). I'm calling for a goal from each of them, along with another clean sheet from Szczesny, in a 2-0 win. Your predictions below the fold...