There’s nothing especially ground-breaking about Phelan’s tactics, but they have proved especially efficient in the opening weeks of the season. Hull have fielded the same eleven in every game this season. In defence, Curtis Davies provides aerial cover, while Jake Livermore, a midfielder for Tottenham in a past life, can start moves from the back. With their ostensibly wide midfielders cutting in, most of the width comes from the effervescent Andy Robertson on the left and Ahmed Elmohamady, both of whom are capable of providing a decent supply of crosses. Both men are vulnerable to a counter-attack and it was Elmohamady’s fatigued moment of hesitation that allowed Wayne Rooney to make United’s winner before the international break, but their strengths outweigh their weaknesses.
The revelation of Hull’s season has been 25 year old Sam Clucas, a towering red-head whose career was rescued by a stint at the Glenn Hoddle academy after he failed to make the grade at Lincoln City. Spells at Hereford and Mansfield followed before Hull spent £1.3m on him in 2015. He was nearly an ever present last season, but even the most ardent Hull fan couldn’t have predicted how comfortable he would look in the Premier League. Ungainly, he may seem, but Clucas’ positioning is excellent, he frequently intercepts attacking moves and, once in possession, he is utterly decisive. He’ll either play a quick pass to a team-mate or he’ll thrash out a leg and put the ball in a low earth orbit.
If it is a quick pass, he has plenty of options. Tom Huddlestone and David Meyler stay in close proximity and offer different strengths. Meyler is capable of grabbing the ball and running with it, while Huddlestone prefers a low forward pass. They’re flanked by Robert Snodgrass on the right, making up for lost time after an eternity out with injury, and Adama Diomande, an industrious Norwegian who likes to run with the ball, though he enjoyed little reward against Burnley. Together, they support Abel Hernandez, whose 20 goals were a key factor in returning Hull to the top flight at the first attempt.
It’s easy to write Hull off as simply a disciplined, compact unit hoping for a break, but there’s more to them than that. When Meyler hit Tom Heaton’s post just before half-time, it was the final touch to an 18 pass move that involved nearly every outfield player.