The FourFourTwo Preview: Man United vs Hull
The moveable rock meets the stoppable force.
MAN UNITED FORM
- Arsenal 1-2 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 1-0 Palace (Prem)
- Man City 1-0 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 1-1 Chelsea (Prem)
- WBA 2-2 Man Utd (Prem)
- Hull 1-2 Spurs (Prem)
- Burnley 1-0 Hull (Prem)
- Hull 0-1 So’ton (Prem)
- Liverpool 0-0 Hull (Prem)
- Arsenal 2-2 Hull (Prem)
It’s one of the season’s great imponderables: just how good is Louis van Gaal’s current team? A month ago, the Dutch gaffer huffed that it would be “stupid” to start judging his reign after he presided over the worst start to a Manchester United season in 27 years. He was surely right, and by such logic, it’s almost certainly foolhardy to suddenly consider a narrow win over a fragile Arsenal side as some kind of major turning point.
United may be back in the Champions League positions, but already this season, the schizophrenic Red Devils have slumped to 17th, roared up to 4th and drifted back down to 10th again. Given the extraordinarily concertina-like nature of the league table, with nine points separating 19th and 4th, another plunge into the murky depths is just a dodgy decision or two away. Especially considering that a tricky run of fixtures up to the festive period – Hull, Stoke, Southampton, Liverpool – embodies the “no easy games” cliche.
Those searching for green shoots of red recovery have much to be heartened by, however. A back three of Chris Smalling, Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair may have prompted talk of mighty defences falling, and the rebirth of the “you’ll win nothing with kids” brigade prior to the fixture at the Emirates, but Van Gaal’s selection was ultimately vindicated. His rearguard – and outstanding goalkeeper – won the match as much as his stellar frontline, and the Dutchman deserved the chance to claim “now I can laugh” afterwards.
They may lack balance, but there also was evidence of some traditional United-like grit in defeating Arsene Wenger’s men amid an injury crisis.
It is a quality Van Gaal’s best sides have always shared with Sir Alex Ferguson’s. A long way away from Fergie’s finest outfit they may be, but the addition of steel to style was certainly on the LVG to-do list.
And as vulnerable as United have been this term, Hull seem an unlikely banana skin on current form. Winless since the start of October, Steve Bruce’s charges have been poor on the road, winning just once (although the fine home form that underpinned their resilience last season seems to have deserted them, too).
That said, the Tigers still have a Bruce-hewn solidity that ensures they almost never get spanked: only Manchester City have managed to beat them by more than a one-goal margin all season.
They are an XI that embody that “no easy game” cliche – witness their battling performance against Spurs – but just can’t currently seem to translate their undoubted competitiveness into points.
A lack of goals will be difficult to address, but expect Bruce’s men to be fully motivationally charged after the ex-United lynchpin launched several rockets at his side’s lack of character in the wake of the Burnley defeat.
Another year of survival seems likely, mainly as there are six or seven sides looking worse than the Tigers. It’s faint praise, but expect Hull, who haven’t beaten United since 1974, to battle hard yet come up short.
United’s injury roster continues to read like Lord of the Rings, with Daley Blind, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Jonny Evans, Rafael, Phil Jones, Radamel Falcao and Jesse Lingard all clutching at various body parts.
Barring long-term absentee Robert Snodgrass, City’s squad are far more sprightly, with Alex Bruce and Mohamed Diame expected to be available again.
Key battle: Marouane Fellaini vs Jake Livermore
United and Hull were both out-passed in midfield by their opponents last weekend (Arsenal and Spurs respectively) but Fellaini and Livermore stood out as beacons of calm possession with the ball, and a pesky menace without it, for their sides.
After being made the poster boy for David Moyes’ unpopular reign at Old Trafford, the quiet Belgian (and his former manager) can be permitted a wry smile about his form this season.
Following Van Gaal’s £150 million splurge, the Scot’s sole summer signing of 2013 has bedded in to the new-look United as well as any of the new faces.
Against Arsenal, he completed 33 of 39 attempted passes – 7 of them in the attacking third, and managed 9 ball recoveries, 5 successful tackles, 5 clearances and won 5 aerial duels out of 5. Having taken the lead, Fellaini teamed up superbly with Michael Carrick to shield the United back three.
Livermore has performed a similar function for the Tigers – using the ball simply but effectively, and hassling his opponents mercilessly when he hasn’t got it. Combining well with Tom Huddlestone to give the City midfield a real air of class, Livermore completed 22 passes of 26 against Spurs (7 in the final third), completed 4 of 6 tackles, recovered the ball 4 times, and scored with his only shot of the game.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- United 3-1 Hull (PL, May 14)
- Hull 2-3 United (PL, Dec 13)
- United 4-0 Hull (PL, Jan 10)
- Hull 1-3 United (PL, Dec 09)
- Hull 0-1 United (PL, May 09)
The duo have not met managerially before, but this should be an interesting clash between two gaffers crooning from similar tactical team-sheets, albeit with different budgets. With both men currently favouring a robust 3-5-2, and liking to mop up pressure in midfield, the centre circle at Old Trafford could resemble rush hour. Both have also been sharp with their tongues of late, with Bruce lambasting his side as “big time Charlies” after their capitulation to Burnley, and Van Gaal calling Chris Smalling “stupid” after his sending off. Expect no fools to be gladly suffered.
Facts and figures
- Wayne Rooney has scored 6 goals in 4 Premier League matches against Hull.
- Angel Di Maria has assisted 20 goals in 2014, more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues.
- Hull have made more clearances (525) and more blocks (73) than any other Premier League team this season.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
United to eke out another edgy win. 1-0.
Back 1-0 at 7/1 with Bet365. Odds right at time of publication