Hull City’s dreams of a great escape were kept alive on Saturday afternoon as Marco Silva’s side ran out 2-1 winners against West Ham at the KCOM. While defenders Andy Robertson and Andrea Ranocchia grabbed the headlines with two very well taken second half goals, the real plaudits deserve to go to Silva and his excellent half-time reshuffle which turned the game on its head. Has the Portuguese finally found a formation which best accommodates his limited squad?
Football never ceases to amaze me. Hull City fans, including myself, have been calling out for Marco Silva to start with a more positive and attacking formation of 3-5-2 for weeks now, and we finally got our wish during the first half of Saturday’s clash with West Ham. Indeed, the formation did finally see Silva start with two out-and-out strikers on the pitch, something fans have craved to see for weeks, however, it also provided one of the worst halves of football the KCOM has seen this season. It is ironic then that only when the so-called exotic, Mourinho-esque, Marco Silva switched to a much-maligned, some would say traditionally British, 4-4-2 formation did the Tigers really get going.
Silva started the game with his preferred back-three of Curtis Davies, Andrea Ranocchia and Harry Maguire, despite having the option of a fit-again Michael Dawson on the bench. Of course, in theory, this also allowed for wing-backs Robertson and Ahmed Elmohamady to bomb forward and support the compacted central midfield trio of Alfred N’Diaye, Sam Clucas and Lazar Markovic, and to provide crosses for the striking partnership of the industrious Abel Hernandez and Oumar Niasse, at every opportunity. However, in reality this ‘Plan A’ didn’t work out.
When on the ball, City, and our midfield three in particular, really struggled to maintain possession which quickly turned our proposed back three into a back five, pinning our wing-backs in our own half, and forced any potential attacks predictably through the centre of the park. While West Ham looked equally scruffy during large periods of the first-half, Andy Carroll proved the difference, not only scoring a well-taken goal but also acting as the focal point in nearly every Hammers’ attack.
Silva’s half-time ‘masterstroke’, which saw City adopt a classic 4-4-2 formation with centre-half Davies replaced by new fans’ favourite Kamil Grosicki, saw an instantaneous improvement in the second-half. Grosicki and Robertson down the left and Elmohamady and Markovic on the right, were really able to bully full-backs Aaron Cresswell and Sam Byram, and Silva’s men looked like a different side to the one that had left the field at half-time.
Shifting attacking focus to the flanks in the second-half, instead of concentrating all our attacking play through the centre of the park, was certainly needed in the absence of usual playmaker Tom Huddlestone. With the former Spurs man set to miss another two fixtures and new-found electric pace on both wings, this unfashionable formation could be the key to survival if City can repeat their second half display in upcoming games.
With the visit of relegation rival Middlesbrough to the KCOM on Wednesday evening, I would be fully tempted to start with the eleven which came out for City in the second-half today. That is, Eldin Jakupovic in goal, a back four of Robertson, Ranocchia, Maguire, and Elmohamady, a midfield of Grosicki, Clucas, N’Diaye, and Markovic, and Naisse and Hernandez upfront.
In some ways it’s almost difficult to talk about a traditional, old-fashioned, 4-4-2 formation without being branded a dinosaur nowadays. However, yesterday Marco Silva has shown, as Leicester City did as they won the Premier League last season, despite what the football hipsters will tell you, 4-4-2 can be as effective as any other convoluted modern formation. As has been Hull City’s biggest problem all season, Marco Silva has a very limited squad of players at his disposal. If he is to achieve the near-impossible task of keeping City in the Premier League this season, finding our best formation and sticking to it during our vital run-in was always going to be important. Hopefully today’s brilliant ‘back to basics’ second half display can act as the final turning-point Hull City need to pull off a miraculous great escape this season. Bring on Boro.