The FourFourTwo Preview: Hull vs Southampton
The battle of the title-winning centre-backs-turned managers.
- Liverpool 0-0 Hull (Prem)
- Arsenal 2-2 Hull (Prem)
- Hull 2-0 Palace (Prem)
- Hull 2-4 Man City (Prem)
- WBA 3-2 Hull (LC)
- Stoke 2-3 So’ton (LC)
- So’ton 1-0 Stoke (Prem)
- So’ton 8-0 S’land (Prem)
- Spurs 1-0 So’ton (Prem)
- So’ton 2-1 QPR (Prem)
Football is made joyous by its unique quirks of fate and coincidences, and the KC Stadium will bare witness to one this Saturday.
With Hull taking on Southampton, Steve Bruce and Ronald Koeman will meet as Premier League managers for the first time - one day short of 20 years since they shook hands at Camp Nou prior to one of the more memorable nights in Champions League history, when Koeman's Barcelona battered Bruce's Manchester United 4-0.
Bruce captained United that day as a United side weakened by the foreigners' rule was torn apart by the likes of Romario, Hristo Stoichkov, Pep Guardiola and Koeman himself.
Besides leading his side out and having to rally them as goal after goal flew in, Bruce's most notable other duty that day was helping stop an enraged Alex Ferguson from coming to blows with his midfielder Paul Ince at half-time in the dressing room, after Ince had taken exception to his manager calling him "a f*cking bottler".
"It was as close to a fist-fight as you can get without it kicking off," reserve keeper Kevin Pilkington would remark years later.
"Kiddo [Brian Kidd] and Brucey jumped in and separated them and just about stopped it. The lads were stunned."
Pilkington raved about Barcelona on the night. "They played the most devastating football I've ever witnessed," he said.
And while Southampton's current form can't be compared to the level of that brilliant Barcelona team of two decades ago, Koeman is certainly attempting to imbue his team a similar philosophy and style of play.
Consequently, it would be difficult to find a more clearly defined clash of managerial ideologies than in Kingston upon Hull this weekend: Brucey's battalion of workers and scrappers (and Hatem Ben Arfa) against the Eredivisie-influenced silk and style of Southampton.
Hull's industrious, workmanlike 3-5-2 has seen them draw five of their nine league games this season – the Tigers only drew seven in the whole of 2013/14. The impact made by Michael Dawson and Mohamed Diame in particular has been hugely positive, but Hull are struggling to turn sturdy performances into wins.
That said, consecutive away draws at Arsenal and Liverpool are fitting demonstrations of just how resolute an opponent Bruce's team has become.
Second in the table, Saints have been the outstanding surprise package of this season's Premier League thus far, scoring 20 goals and conceding 5 - the best defensive record in England's top four divisions.
The Saints have also won their last four league games against Hull and lost just one of the last 16 in all competitions (W10 D5 L1). Hull have won just one home game all season so far, and they'll once again have to battle hard if they're to beat the form guide. Bruce wouldn't have it any other way.
Hull's injury list does not make pleasant reading if you're of an orange and black persuasion. Allan McGregor and Steve Harper have arm and shoulder injuries so third-choice glovesman Eldin Jakupovic gets another chance in goal after earning praise from his manager when Hull claimed a clean sheet at Anfield.
Andrew Robertson is back, Dawson is out - a real blow as he's been excellent for the Tigers to date - Nikica Jelavic is sidelined with a knee problem and Gaston Ramirez is ineligible to play under the terms of his loan. Tom Ince has agreed to join Championship promotion hopefuls Nottingham Forest on loan until January.
Southampton have far fewer injury woes. James Ward-Prowse and Jay Rodriguez are long-term absentees and Sadio Mane has an ankle knock, but should be fit to play.
Key Battle: Curtis Davies vs Graziano Pelle
"Distance means so little when someone means so much" wrote Pelle's Hungarian model girlfriend Viky Varga in a loved-up, pictorial ode to her man via Instagram earlier this month. It seems the 29-year-old Lecce-born heartthrob can do no wrong at the moment, scoring six goals in his first nine Premier League games, winning player of the month for September and scoring on his long-awaited international debut for Italy against Malta having been called up to the squad at the expense of Mario Balotelli.
Pelle is loving life at the moment, ticking off another box by firing the Saints into the League Cup quarter-finals this week, and the confidence deriving from his positive start at St Mary's has only added further wind to his sails. Curtis Davies may lack nothing in experience but he'll have to be on his toes to keep Pelle quiet. Hull's captain scooped the player of the year award from both players and supporters last season, and in the recent draws at Arsenal and Liverpool the centre-back showed exactly why.
Though embarrassed by Alexis Sanchez for Arsenal's first goal, few players will come up against the Chilean wizard this season and not find their legs trembling in a state of confusion as the very ground beneath them dissolves into molten lava. Ask Wes Brown or Vito Mannone. However, Davies recovered from that to put in a fine performance, stopping a certain goal with a brilliant block on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and making a pleasing array of blocks, tackles and interceptions as he and his team kept the Gunners at bay.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Hull 0-1 Saints (PL, Feb 14)
- Saints 4-1 Hull (PL, Nov 13)
- Hull 0-2 Saints (Ch, Mar 12)
- Saints 2-1 Hull (Ch, Nov 11)
- Hull 5-0 Saints (Ch, Mar 08)
Bruce and Koeman have won 28 major honours between them as players, so they won't be short of old war stories to trade post-match. Clear similarities exist between the two, and one wonders about the glass ceiling that appears to box in English managers in this country, when you consider Bruce's fortunes at the clubs he's managed and the invariably dwindling returns for those clubs once he leaves. Koeman's status as a multiple title-winning centre-back at one of the grandest clubs in Europe has led him on a path to managerial roles at Ajax, Benfica, PSV, Valencia, AZ Alkmaar and Feyenoord - some of the most prestigious Iberian outfits and the three biggest in his country.
Meanwhile, it would take some leap of the imagination to ever imagine Bruce - tactically astute, clever in the transfer market and the man who's led Hull to promotion and their first ever FA Cup final and European campaign - being handed one of the top six jobs in England, let alone all of the top three.
Facts and figures
- Southampton have won every game that they have scored first in this season in the Premier League (5/5).
- No side have caught their opponents offside on fewer occasions than Hull (6, level with Stoke).
- No-one has dropped more points from leading positions this season than Hull (8, level with Swansea).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Draws are Hull's specialty this season and that looks like continuing here. 1-1.
Back 1-1 at 6/1 with Bet365. Odds right at time of publication