We are all guilty to some degree of judging Marco Silva’s success in the Premier League through the prism of the ridicule he faced when he arrived. Every Hull win is used first and foremost as a stick with which to beat those who questioned his credentials; each point is a personal victory for the Portuguese over those who stated without doubt that “he’s not got a clue”.
At this stage, it serves little purpose to highlight those who derided Silva, for he has proven all of us wrong. No-one expected that the 39-year-old could have inspired the kind of performances which have given Hull more than a fighting chance of survival. Fewer still believed he could unite a club fractured by mismanagement on and off the pitch.
It is that sort of unity which made results like the 2-0 victory over Watford possible. Hull of the past would have surrendered when Oumar Niasse was bizarrely red carded after just 25 minutes, and yet the Tigers used this injustice to their advantage. The KC Stadium rallied, the fans pushed the players on, and despite playing over an hour with ten men, Hull were deserving of a win which keeps daylight between them and 18th-placed Swansea. Burnley and Leicester are now only three and four points ahead respectively.
When Silva was appointed, Hull were bottom, written off by most, if not all, as relegation certainties. Since his appointment, they have accrued more points (20) than every side apart from the current top six and Crystal Palace. Six of the club’s starting XI against Watford were signed in January.
What’s more, Silva left both club captain Michael Dawson and experienced midfielder Tom Huddlestone on the bench against the Hornets. While the two are very different managers, Antonio Conte placed his reputation on the line with similar calls in the FA Cup semi-final on the same day. Just like the Chelsea manager, Silva has now earned immunity from having his tactical calls questioned; the players and the fans have faith that he knows best. And while Conte is the frontrunner to be named Manager of the Year, his most stern competition could well come from Humberside.
Hull’s January signings
Niasse has five goals in five games, and joined as a laughing stock from Everton.
Evandro arrived as a relative unknown, having failed to feature for Porto in the league prior to his January exit.
Omar Elabdellaoui was on the periphery of the first team at Olympiakos, but has become a solid squad member at Hull.
Lazar Markovic has had his Premier League career reinvigorated.
Andrea Ranocchia has been perhaps the best signing of the January transfer window, having spent the first half of the season on the Inter Milan bench.
Alfred N’Diaye has been a colossus in central midfield after starting one league game for Villarreal all season.
Kamil Grosicki has been integral to the club’s resurgence after joining from Rennes on deadline day.
Hull might have sold their best defensive player (Jake Livermore) and best offensive player (Robert Snodgrass) in January, but has any club ever had a better winter transfer window?
One can only wonder how much Silva and Hull knew of the fate of their relegation rivals. As the Tigers were battling to secure a crucial three points in their fight for survival, Swansea were doing the precise same thing at home to Stoke.
Clement deserves particular credit not only for leading his side to a 2-0 victory, ensuring that Hull did not open up a gap, but for his bravery in substituting goalscorer Fernando Llorente with only a one-goal lead. The Spaniard had been criticised before the game for his work ethic, when it emerged that he had only sprinted 20m in the previous defeat to Watford. Clement gambled by starting the striker, who was not at full fitness, and then went double or quits by replacing him with defender Mike van der Hoorn in the second half.
Fortune favours the brave, and Clement will have breathed a sigh of relief as he watched Marko Arnautovic’s penalty soar over the crossbar ten minutes after Llorente was removed. A minute after Stoke squandered the opportunity to equalise from the spot, Tom Carroll’s deflected strike gave Swansea room to manoeuvre with a two-goal lead. Silva will earn more plaudits, but two inexperienced, relegation-embattled managers earned their stripes on Saturday.
A first start since December coincides with Swansea’s first win in seven games. Britton’s got talent.
“Do I think Anthony is a player with great potential? Yes, I think. Do I think he can play successfully for me? Yes I think. But he needs to give me things that I like.”
Alongside long walks on the beach at sunset and candlelit meals, Jose Mourinho likes nothing more than one of his players responding to public criticism. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has already passed his test this season, and Luke Shaw is currently revising; Mourinho made it clear that it was Martial’s turn with his comments in midweek.
It should not be overlooked that Martial started against Burnley and led the line as a striker only in the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcus Rashford, the Frenchman providing a squad option with others injured or rested. Yet he still shone when given the opportunity. He opened the scoring at Turf Moor, ending a flowing counter-attack which he helped to start, before helping to create Wayne Rooney’s strike. It was the first time he had scored and assisted in a single Premier League away match.
The goal against Burnley might have cost United £8.5million, his 25th goal for the club triggering a clause in the deal which saw him join from Monaco, but it could well be priceless in the context of his relationship with Mourinho.
Martial was the difference, Rooney got his goal and Paul Pogba was brilliant in midfield, but Manchester United have a new star in central defence. Mourinho lauded Eric Bailly as “incredible” after the win over Burnley, but the Portuguese did not stop there in his effusive praise.
“If I was Smalling or Jones, I would play Thursday with anything, I would,” he said. “I wouldn’t accept one guy to play nine matches in a row because I am injured, I would do a last push.”
There is no greater honour than to be used as a yardstick in a public Mourinho taunt. But Bailly has earned that distinction, prospering in difficult conditions at Turf Moor in only his 84th professional match at club level, and less than 72 hours after playing the full 120 minutes against Anderlecht. At just 23, the Ivorian is already setting an example that his manager wants his teammates to follow.
For inflicting upon Burnley only their fifth home Premier League defeat of the season, and in such convincing fashion. United are now three points behind third-placed Liverpool with two games in hand, and just one point separates them from fourth-placed Manchester City. Thursday’s derby is bloody huge, and you should expect 16 Conclusions.
It turns out that putting round pegs in round holes can be a successful tactic in football management. Slaven Bilic has spent much of this campaign playing Cheikhou Kouyate at right-back, Andre Ayew as a lone striker and Michail Antonio in any position possible, but West Ham kept it simple against Everton and reaped the rewards.
A 0-0 draw is hardly the most positive of results, but restricting a dangerous Everton side to no shots on target represents progress for the Hammers. Adrian was restored to the starting line-up and kept a clean sheet, James Collins and Arthur Masuaku were excellent in defence, and Havard Nordtveit flourished in his actual position of central midfield. The suspended Mark Noble might be feeling the pressure.
These are not the giant leaps that the West Ham owners seem to publicly demand each week, but Bilic will know the value of taking baby steps after a difficult season. Beat Stoke next week, and they could be as high as ninth.
“From start to finish we were tactically exceptional. We did not get involved in things that wouldn’t allow us to counterattack against the opposition or expose the opposition’s weaknesses. With our limited possession we exposed Liverpool’s weaknesses time and time again and ultimately that has brought us from 1-0 down to win it. I give the players a huge amount of credit for the way they defended and how they exposed the weaknesses of Liverpool defensively which, in the end, they couldn’t cope with.”
No-one does humble quite like Sam Allardyce. Mind you, he can hardly be blamed: victories over Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool in their last five games have pushed Crystal Palace towards Premier League safety. It’s all gravy for Sam. Often literally.
Two goals to sink the club who cast him aside, and now five goals in five Premier League games after one in his previous 13. Few love a relegation scrap more.
Our early winner, and proof that Eddie Howe isn’t cursed in the transfer market.
For scoring a lovely goal, for having the middle name Raymond, and for once playing for Mansfield Town.
He went to Wembley twice and everything.
Of all the words Jurgen Klopp had at his disposal following Liverpool’s defeat to Crystal Palace on Sunday, he chose *that* one.
“I know there are a lot of people around thinking, ‘Oh my God, Champions League slips through our fingers again’,” he said after the game. “But only if we let it slip.”
Oh boy. But even leaving aside flashbacks of Steven Gerrard’s prophetic warnings to his teammates three years ago, that horse might have just bolted out of the Liverpool stables. They are now just two and three points above Manchester City and Manchester United respectively, having played two games more than both.
That the two Manchester clubs face each other on Thursday would normally represent a positive for Liverpool, as at least one of those sides will drop points in their quest for Champions League qualification. But in this instance it might haunt the Reds: At least one club will pick up points, and both would still have one game in hand. A draw might be the worst-case scenario.
If Liverpool do fail to qualify for the Champions League, Klopp would paint this as no disaster. They did finish eighth last season after all, and they have reached Europe’s top table once in the last six seasons. But that overlooks the salient point that at one stage the Reds were fighting for the title. That quickly turned into a top-four race, one which they now have no control over. Relying on the failure of other sides is not success.
Most sides would relish Liverpool’s final four games of Watford (A), Southampton (H), West Ham (A) and Middlesbrough (H), and yet the Reds would likely rather play every other member of the top five, for they are unable to beat teams set up to thwart them. At this stage of the season Liverpool are barely crawling over the finish line, such is their propensity for shooting themselves in the foot.
Liverpool’s set-piece defending
Christian Benteke’s header from Andros Townsend’s pretty shoddy corner represents the 13th set-piece goal Liverpool have conceded in the Premier League this season. And yet there is no semblance of bad luck in their inability to defend them.
Our early loser for making it feel like 2015 all over again.
To you, I pose a simple question: What happens if Stoke don’t finish ninth?
What happens if the one guarantee in this world of ever-increasing change does not come to pass? Even when Leicester won the Premier League and Chelsea were battling relegation, Stoke finished ninth. When the roles were reversed a season beforehand, Stoke finished ninth. Every Premier League club aside from Arsenal, Bournemouth and Burnley have changed their manager since Stoke last finished anywhere other than ninth.
The defeat to Swansea might well have been the nadir of a nondescript season. The Stoke players were directionless, and have a manager increasingly incapable of motivating them.
Having seen the Potters beat Hull 3-1 last weekend, albeit unconvincingly, Hughes reverted to a 4-4-2 formation, a tactic Stoke have not won with all season. The manager chose to concentrate on the misfortune of Arnautovic’s missed second-half penalty, but that is an insult to the supporters who have witnessed Stoke underachieve time and time again this season.
A malaise has set in at the Britannia Stadium, one which threatens to hinder their progress heading into next season. This summer is crucial for the club in terms of investment, yet can Hughes really be trusted with more transfer funds? Joe Allen has been a fine purchase and Ramadan Sobhi shows a lot of promise, but for every Bruno Martins Indi there is a Giannelli Imbula and a Wilfried Bony.
Only three top-flight managers have served longer in their current post than Hughes, and two of those – Eddie Howe and Sean Dyche – have not spent the entirety of their spells in the Premier League. He cannot rely on the excuse that he is building something exciting at the Britannia Stadium, for Stoke are now 11th, one point above Crystal Palace and West Ham, and two better off than Leicester. He is neither waving nor drowning as the Potters sink further into obscurity. They can only cross their fingers and hope that this is as bad as it gets.
While Stoke outcast Bojan Krkic was scoring for Mainz in a draw against Bayern Munich to become only the seventh player to net in the Bundesliga, Premier League, Serie A and La Liga, the club’s expensive new recruit continued his recent struggles.
Credit to Hughes for trying to popularise the little and large strike partnership once more, starting a small forward alongside Peter Crouch, but this was the latest plan that failed in bring out the best in Saido Berahino. He missed a handful of presentable chances against Swansea, and has gone 11 games without a goal for Stoke since joining in January.
In a world where football club owners are now playing key roles in relegating their own sides – here’s to you, Francesco Becchetti – one must proceed with caution when criticising a man who has earned a status as a hero for the work he has done.
Steve Gibson helped save Middlesbrough from liquidation in 1986, and has served the club with distinction ever since. He has been the one constant through the club’s initial rise to the Premier League, their victory in the 2004 League Cup final and their run to the 2006 UEFA Cup final. He is a lifelong fan, and was given the Freedom of Middlesbrough over a decade ago.
Gibson’s remarkably kind nature was evident when he provided his full and public backing to Steve Agnew back in March. “No – we are going with Steve Agnew,” he said, with the club reported to be considering Nigel Pearson or former manager Steve McClaren as Aitor Karanka’s replacement.
“He has years of experience, I trust him, he’s a man of integrity and the players at this football club respect, trust and like him,” he added.
Six games, four defeats and two draws later, and Middlesbrough’s slim hopes of survival have evaporated. The 4-0 defeat to Bournemouth was striking in terms of just how poor the visitors were.
It’s difficult not to draw comparisons with Hull, who used an unjustified red card to their advantage at the weekend. Gaston Ramirez’s sending-off had the opposite effect on Middlesbrough, who let their heads drop when he was dismissed.
And just as Hull took the opportunity to gamble on survival by bringing Silva in in January to replace Mike Phelan, Middlesbrough might rue the fact that they waited until March to replace Karanka with the uninspiring Agnew. They would perhaps have suffered relegation either way, but it simply feels as though Middlesbrough have accepted their fate without putting up a fight.
The dive was hilariously stupid; the tackle was stupidly hilarious. The red card was deserved.
Whose idea was it to have Joe Allen mark Fernando Llorente at corners?
A season of progress continues to offer more before snatching it away. Everton would have risen to fifth with a victory over struggling West Ham, and yet they put in perhaps their worst performance of the season. They did not record a single shot on target for only the third time in their last 203 Premier League matches, a run dating back to January 2012.
Only a fool doesn’t score in ten consecutive games against West Ham.
For a man seemingly so intent on insisting people see him as a ‘dinosaur’, Sean Dyche might struggle to turn his head and look behind Burnley in the Premier League table. If he manages it, he’ll see 17th-placed Hull just three points below them, and Swansea two points further back. They really are not safe yet. Remember when he was tipped for the Arsenal job?