With only six games left of the Premier League season and Hull City currently finding themselves outside of the relegation zone, the Tigers’ Premier League fate is very much in their own hands. However, with the likes of Crystal Palace and West Ham picking up important wins last weekend, it is looking increasingly as though it is now a two horse race between City and Swansea to avoid the final relegation place.
Marco Silva’s Hull City travel to the Potteries to face a mid-table, but horribly out of form, Stoke City side on Saturday, knowing a rare away win would be priceless in keeping Premier League survival hopes alive. After an expected defeat at the hands of Manchester City last time out, Silva must revert back to a more attacking 4-4-2 formation and take some risks to record a first Premier League victory on the road since August.
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As I have touched upon, Mark Hughes’ usually solid Stoke side are currently in a poor spell of form, losing their last four league games, with accusations that the Potters are, to use a horrible cliché, ‘already on the beach’. However, with 36 points currently on the board, Hughes will want to ensure Premier League survival is signed, sealed and delivered with one more win, making this fixture potentially tougher for the Tigers than it may seem at first glance.
Unfortunately, looking at City’s recent history at the former Britannia Stadium does little to really reassure Hull City fans. In our last five league appearances there, stretching back to January 2008, Hull City have failed to win on each occasion – losing three and drawing two. However, The Tigers did come away with a win last time out at the Bet365 back in September, beating Sparky’s men 2-1 in the League Cup.
While this can’t really be described as a ‘must-win’ category game, it certainly isn’t far off. With Swansea playing Watford, a team also struggling for form, any City slip up could be harshly punished and see us back in the relegation zone with just five games to play.
As such, I think Marco Silva has to be brave and take some calculated ‘risks’ going into Saturday. Most importantly, for me at least, Silva must revert back to a 4-4-2 formation, similar to the one which started against Middlesbrough last week, in favour of the defensive-minded 4-5-1 adopted against Guardiola’s City last Saturday.
This formation allows for City to maintain a solid midfield and defence when not in possession, while also keeping outlets in the form of two strikers when possession is won back. As the Boro game illustrated, this formation, which Silva appears to deploy in a slightly more flexible way than traditional connotations of the rigid formation usually conger, can also see the formation transform more into a 4-2-4 when going forward. This sees wingers, most likely in the form of Markovic and Grosicki, join the front two of Hernandez and Niasse when bombing forward in possession to form a front four. Against a struggling Stoke side while fighting for our Premier League survival, this must be encouraged.
Another ‘risk’ I’m sure many City fans would love to see, if it is feasible and not going to have long-term ramifications, of course, is starting player of the season Harry Maguire. The fans’ favourite, who missed the Tigers trip to the Etihad this weekend after picking up a minor knee injury against Middlesbrough, has been nothing short of phenomenal in recent months, not only in defence but also going forward, and if there is any opportunity for the former Sheffield United man to start the match on Saturday, Silva must surely take that chance in search for what would be an invaluable three points.
With just six fixtures left to ensure another year of top flight football at the KCOM, It is officially ‘squeaky bum time’. Before the start of the season most fans, including myself, thought we would have already been relegated by this point, so to have this opportunity is testament to the hard work of our limited squad and the revelation that is Marco Silva. However, the job is clearly not done yet. It is time to be bold and it is time to take some risks. In Silva we trust.