The FourFourTwo Preview: Man United vs Hull
The dawning of a new era for United; a fact-finding mission for Hull.
Crikey, what a rotten season it's been for Manchester United. Having watched their team of champions crumble under the stewardship of David Moyes, their fans have also suffered the ignominy of seeing their most bitter of rivals – Liverpool and Manchester City, not to mention Jose Mourinho (the man many feel they should have appointed last summer) – duking it out for the title. At times, it must have felt like some horrific, out-of-body experience.
MAN UNITED FORM
- Man Utd 0-1 S'land (Prem)
- Man Utd 4-0 Norwich (Prem)
- Everton 2-0 Man Utd (Prem)
- Bayern 3-1 Man Utd (CL)
- Newcastle 0-4 Man Utd (Prem)
- Aston Villa 3-1 Hull (Prem)
- Fulham 2-2 Hull (Prem)
- Hull 0-3 Arsenal (Prem)
- Hull 5-3 Sheffield Utd (FAC)
- Hull 1-0 Swansea (Prem)
This, then, is a chance to bid farewell to a grim campaign as well as some departing personnel. If speculation is to be believed, manager-in-waiting Louis van Gaal is due to be unveiled this week; his first move will be to sweep away some of the remnants from Fergie's successful squad.
Defender Nemanja Vidic is set to leave for Inter Milan in the summer, and recent performances suggest his partner Rio Ferdinand might struggle to survive the Van Gaal cull (one paper even linked him with a move to Arsenal in the close season), while winger Nani has been linked with Juventus. As if to underline the issues at United, England manager Roy Hodgson has also delivered some worrying news for Fergie's previously reliable international stock.
"I’m pretty certain that the Manchester United players will understand that there’s no God-given right that, because they’ve played in a few games up to now, they’ll play all the games in the future," he said of England's looming World Cup campaign.
"It’s up to me to pick who the best players for the job are at any given moment." Fortress Old Trafford truly is creaking.
It's a different story over at Hull. Safe from the drop under Steve Bruce and assured of a Europa League spot, the club have also secured a place in the FA Cup final. Their opponents are Arsenal, a team who play a form of brisk, expansive football previously expected at Old Trafford. This match represents something of a dilemma for Bruce, then. Should he stick with his strongest team in an attempt to build momentum towards their Wembley showdown? Or should he rest his wearier players and ensure fresh legs for an Arsenal team notorious for choking on the big stage? Decisions, decisions.
Hull emerged from their disappointing 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa on Saturday unscathed, though defender James Chester will miss the rest of the season with a hamstring injury. Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long – both of whom will be cup-tied for the final – are available for selection here, but long-term injuries headaches Allan McGregor, Paul McShane and Robbie Brady are unavailable.
For United, the only development of note is that Wayne Rooney may return from a niggling groin complaint.
Key battle: Wayne Rooney vs Curtis Davies
The Hull centre-half has had an impressive campaign this year, leading to some pundits (well, Paul Merson) mentioning his name in the same breath as international selection. Arguably, he has enjoyed one of the better periods of his career, though Hull's tendency to leak goals – 11 in the last four fixtures – will be a worry.
Rooney, meanwhile, will be pumped at the chance of ending this season on a relative high. The frustration at watching United's crown slip has been etched into his face, though his work-rate, as always, remains high. Dependent on how well he has recovered from a groin issue, this might be a reminder to Hodgson that, come the summer, he is very much a man with a point to prove.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Hull 2-3 United (Prem, Dec 13)
- United 4-0 Hull (Prem, Jan 10)
- Hull 1-3 United (Prem, Dec 09)
- Hull 0-1 United (Prem, May 09)
- United 4-3 Hull (Prem, Nov 08)
Well, the honeymoon period didn't last long did it? Following on from their crushing victory against a Norwich team in their death throes, United succumbed to Sunderland, a team on arguably one of the most inexplicable survival charges in memory. Stand-in manager Ryan Giggs looks unlikely to stay on beyond the summer: Van Gaal waits in the wings with Patrick Kluivert as his preferred No.2. According to The Mirror, Giggs has told United's decision-makers that he is unwilling to take a minor role within the new unit. Other quotes suggest an acceptance that he might not remain at the club for good.
"I could have another 20 to 25 years in the game," he said. "And it might not all be spent at Old Trafford. If I went elsewhere it would be strange, but I can see myself doing that. The association I have with United will always be special. If I have to do it I'll do it, but how it will feel I don't know."
In a week where Crystal Palace manager Tony Pulis made calls for Bruce to be named Manager of the Year, the former United player has been able to revel in a season of impressive landmarks for Hull. Though there have been some cautionary words, too.
"On an awful day [against Aston Villa], if someone had said to me two years ago we'd be safe in the Premier League, planning for a FA Cup final and in Europe, they'd be carting me off in white coats," he said. "It's quite remarkable. But we'll not last long in Europe playing like that. We won't play that badly again."
Facts and figures
- United have won their last 6 league matches against Hull, including all 5 Premier League clashes.
- Hull have won 0 and lost 9 of their 10 previous league games away at United (D1).
- Rooney has scored 6 goals in 4 PL games against Hull, including 4 in 1 match in January 2010.
- Hull have never kept a clean sheet in a league match away at United, conceding 30 goals in their 10 trips.
- Hull have kept only 2 clean sheet away from home in the PL all season, only Fulham (1) have kept fewer on the road this season in the competition.
- United have lost more home games this season than Norwich (6) and West Brom (5).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Tentative Hull to keep one eye on Wembley and succumb to another mauling. 3-0 United.