It has been three years since Hull City dropped to the Championship after only one season in the Premier League. The 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons witnessed the departure of the head coach Nigel Adkins and an exhausted Hull who struggled in the Championship, ending their seasons in places of 18 and 13 respectively. Grant McCann has taken over the hot seat in KCOM stadium with the responsibility of at least improve their place in the Championship table, and then build the basis from which Tigers can look for a promotion to the Premier League once again. However, almost a season passed and there is no enhancement in Hull’s playstyle; it is even worse when it comes to the 17th place on the ranking. So what is happening with Hull City? In this tactical analysis, we bring you an in-depth analysis of reasons why Hull City does not have a higher ranking in this season.
Defending with 4-4-2
Theoretically, the line-up of Hull City is 4-2-3-1; nevertheless, when in the defensive phase, the 4-2-3-1 transforms to the flat 4-4-2 with their central attacking midfielder Marcus Maddison or George Honeyman pushing themselves up, combining with the striker to form the first defensive line. In the meantime, McCann’s two wingers drop lower to support their two pivots, which helps The Tigers create their second line. Technically, the 4-4-2 flat shape can cover the inherent weakness in the flanks of 4-2-3-1 by sending wingers to move backward and support the full-backs, avoid letting them fall into the 1v1 situation with the opponent’s wingers; when they still can reinforce the central area with their double pivots. However, things do not go as McCann’s tactics and expectations.
As we spoke above, Hull’s attacking midfielder immediately runs forward, stands next to his striker (Tom Eaves or Josh Magennis) in the defensive phase, and starts doing his defensive duty. But instead of constantly pressing the central-backs, they press not so often and let those defensive players comfortably progress the ball in vertical. According to Wyscout, in the last five games, The Tigers only had 12.8 recoveries in the final third per match; this data is lower than the League average and above is the reason why.
The next problem is McCann’s second defensive line which is formed by their pivots and wingers. We mentioned previously about Hull having at least two players to confront the opposite flanks attacking cases by using a winger support a full-back, but the players with orange shirts keep their eyes on the flanks too regular; the central area, hence, is usually left empty with no pivot or just one. It is not hard to tell that by doing so, The Tigers give their opponent a very large space to exploit, and from that, many dangerous situations can happen; especially with formation using one or more advanced midfielders like 4-3-3.
If a pivot moves to the flank and helps his teammate and the other pivot and the winger in the opposite flank move inward to cover the space that is left, they will leave the opposite flank totally empty. It can’t be easier for teams which has a player who is fluent in undertaking flank-switch passes; just a switch pass and they can deliver the ball to the other Hull’s flank and exploit it without any trouble.
Lack of diversity in the attacking phase
Different from teams which found a few ways to avoid putting their lone striker into an isolated situation like Swansea (uses a deep-lying forward and constantly swaps their striker with wingers) or West Bromwich Albion (uses a deep-lying forward and forms a narrow attacking quadrilateral between their striker and three attacking midfielders), Hull City is still loyal to a 4-2-3-1 formation with a classic target man and two wingers; this makes the owner of KCOM Stadium struggle with finding a way to beat the opposite goalie.
The traditional 4-2-3-1 has a classic problem in the striker position. The man who plays this role can easily fall into isolation; it is understandable when many coaches always try to alter the duties of the lone striker to avoid it. However, since the long ball is irreplaceable in Hull’s philosophy, there is nothing they can do but using a classic big, tall man as the long-ranged kick destination.
Not only the striker but also The Tigers’ wingers play without support from teammates. Hull City’s onslaughts mainly rely on their wingers who are flair, sophisticated, and also possess good speed. They often confront full-backs by themselves, dribble past them and decide to cross or cut the ball back; meanwhile, McCann’s pivots wait outside the box, ready to receive a second ball or prepare to destroy a counter-attack. The wingers’ loneliness explains why they lost their position too much in the flanks.
Below are the successful dribbles from Hull’s players in the last five fixtures which are displayed by the orange circle. There are many, but few of them was ended with shots (the black circle). Hull has great dribblers, but their ending products are not what we expected.
Finally, the crosses which are deployed from wingers are relatively lacked effective. Below is the output of Hull’s crosses in the last five matches. The successful crosses are displayed by the orange circle, while the unsuccessful ones are displayed by black squares. The black arrows inform us about ground crosses, while the grey ones are high crosses. We can easily observe that Hull players’ crosses are not so sharp or accurate.
Build-up and transition
The build-up phase and transition have an enormous impact on modern football. It is not exaggerated to say that teams that are not fluent in at least one of those two works let their opponents take the advantages against them.
Hull City usually aims the long-ranged kicks to their target man’s head; however, they play out from the backline often. They do it not so effectively. For instance, in the match against Preston North End, the ball from George Long (former Motherwell player) is usually delivered to Jordy De Wijs; it’s seemed like the Dutch central-back is short of assertiveness and he was hesitant when on-ball. Hence, he gave Preston the ball with a risky passing option.
The same happens with the long passes. McCann’s pair of central-backs usually narrow down their area by slowly moving near the pitch; the quick decision shortage leads to many misplaced long pass of Hull City.
Operating a low defensive block lowers Hull’s ability to deploy transition from the defensive phase to the offensive phase. They own very flair wingers, but they are restricted with the defensive responsibility when the Yorkshire team sets a 4-4-2 system. When the ball is recovered by Hull’s player, they have no choice but to pass it back to the central-backs or their goalkeeper because all of McCann’s wingers are in low positions, and the striker is isolated in a narrow space without any helps.
In this tactical analysis, we brought you an in-depth analysis of Hull City campaign so far in this season. The team under Grant McCann’s management is experiencing another bad season and it seems like a promoting ticket to the Premier League is still out of their range. There are many problems are waiting for McCann to solve, but if the young coach can overcome all of them, The Tigers’ fans can count on a brighter future for the Yorkshire team.