The Tigers need Ahmed Elmohamady and Robbie Brady on song if they're to survive the drop, says Alex Keble...
If the Premier League’s wealth imbalance has created profitable stasis at the top end of the division, then at least the sleep-walking stagnancy of these clubs has reversed the poles and helped produce a remarkably fierce relegation battle. But despite collapsing to defeat at home to Burnley last time out, Hull will fancy their chances at White Hart Lane.
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The 1-0 loss to Sean Dyche’s relegated team symbolised precisely the creative deficiencies that have landed Hull in this precarious position. Playing with attacking wing-backs but deep-lying central midfielders, a lack of variety – and creativity in the centre – makes the Tigers all too predictable.
Ahmed Elmohamady and Robbie Brady have been mostly excellent, though, adapting to the complex wing-back role with aplomb. Against Burnley, the repetitive trend of wing-based attacks was exacerbated, and these two had more touches of the ball (81 and 76 respectively) than any other player on the pitch, attempting 22 crosses between them.
These statistics follow on from a season-long creative imbalance that has seen Hull’s three most frequently used central midfielders (Tom Huddlestone, David Meyler and Jake Livermore) average just 0.7 key passes and 0.4 dribbles each per match, amassing a mere two goals and four assists.
However, Steve Bruce’s tactical simplicity may work in their favour this weekend. It is no coincidence that Hull have struggled against the weaker teams (who sit in deeper, more compact defensive blocks and thus nullify those crosses into the box), while picking up points from Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City – teams more open, dominant and less focused on shielding Elmohamady and Brady.
What’s more, Tottenham have displayed a vulnerability to long crosses from deep in recent matches, largely as the result of wingers Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli failing to track back and close down.
In the 3-0 defeat at Stoke, numerous chances were conceded to crosses, including two of the goals; in most instances Lamela and Chadli were absent, making just four tackles and three interceptions between them.
Attack-minded players failing to track back is a sure sign of a season winding down, and with Elmohamady and Brady in such good form, it could prove decisive on Saturday.