(For US Viewers – Hull City v. Manchester United will be shown LIVE on Thursday December 26th at 7:45am EST on NBC Sports Network)
Boxing Day’s early kick-off will see David Moyes lead a resurgent Manchester United into the KC Stadium to face-off against Steve Bruce’s Hull City. United have won their last four matches in all competitions (keeping clean sheets in three) and are primed to re-establish themselves as one of the league’s top clubs. Hull City are sitting on 20 points after 17 games and boast the Premier League’s best home defense; third-best in all of Europe (three goals conceded in eight home matches).
At first glance, neutral Premier League viewers will see this contest as a potential one-sided affair with United destined for an easy away win. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Hull City have only lost once at home this season and recently handed league leading Liverpool a 3-1 defeat at the KC Stadium.
Hull City manager Steve Bruce is a former Manchester United captain (three league titles between 1987-1996) and will be eager to get his first win against his former club. Bruce’s managerial record in eighteen games against United is: 0W, 4D, 14L; but those numbers were compiled while he locked horns with former United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
The closest Bruce came to beating his old club was in March 2010 when he was in charge of Sunderland. With time running down and his club leading 2-1 at Old Trafford, Sunderland defender Anton Ferdinand scored an unfortunate own goal in the 93rd minute to ruin Bruce’s chance of taking all three points for the first time in his coaching career.
But that was another time and a different team.
Hull City currently boasts the league’s best home defense and the KC Stadium will be a cauldron of noise as Bruce and his players walk onto the pitch. They will be chomping at the bit as they wait for the whistle to sounds so they can take on the defending Champions of England.
Some players will be relishing the opportunity to face the reigning champions more than others. Hull City have several former United players in their ranks: James Chester, Corry Evans, Paul McShane and most-notably Robbie Brady (who is unfortunately ‘doubtful’ for this match).
This will by no means be “beautiful football”. Hull City will really dig in and make United work for 90+ minutes. For those who have seen the Tigers play, they fear no team and play with an aggressiveness that borders on the extreme at times.
Hull City’s roster is littered with a number of solid Premier League professionals who know how to get a job done: midfielder Tom Huddlestone; defenders Maynor Figueroa, Abdoulaye Faye and Curtis Davies; forwards Yannick Sagbo and Danny Graham; and Egyptian international Ahmed Elmohamady has started all seventeen matches for the club this season.
Manager Steve Bruce said: “It is always difficult for a newly-promoted club, but we are making a fist of it and you can see from the way they (his players) play that they are a delight to work with. They roll their sleeves up, have a go and they are enjoying playing in the Premier League.”
These players have a ton of top flight experience and have been organized into a resolute unit by their manager. There is nothing they would want more than to take the scalp of another historical English club in front of their loyal supporters.
On the other hand, Manchester United have been looking dangerous lately; especially on the attack. United are finally pouring players into the box and have hit for six goals in their last two BPL matches.
Critics would say that United have taken advantage of a relatively “easy” part of their schedule, and there could be truth in that statement. Aston Villa and West Ham are a far cry from the Premier League’s current top tier clubs.
But United are on a nine-match unbeaten run away from home in all competitions and have not lost on their travels since being thumped 4-1 by local rivals Manchester City in September.
And although they are not world beaters, Aston Villa has beaten Manchester City and Arsenal this season. While West Ham have been one of the more stubborn clubs to score against this season due in large part to manager Sam Allardyce crowding his midfield and mostly playing with no striker; in spite of those defensive tactics United were able to score three goals against the Hammers this past weekend.
What could be the telling sign that United are preparing to make their normal holiday push is that they are beating the clubs the “should” beat. That couldn’t be said about United a few weeks ago when they were dropping points at Old Trafford to West Brom and Newcastle (You can add Everton to that list at your own peril. My opinion is that Everton will be pushing for a top four spot all season).
In late October with United showing signs of an early wobble, they needed a late rally to beat Stoke City at home. Fast forward to last week, when the Red Devils travelled to the Britannia Stadium (one of the more difficult Premier League venues) and beat the Potters 2-0 in the League Cup.
United entered the game without the services of three key figures: Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie and Michael Carrick. The match was played in some of the worst conditions ever witnessed; at one point play was halted due to a hailstorm. But United’s defense completely shut down Stoke’s aerial attack and Ashley Young’s 62nd minute strike ignited celebrations between players and supporters behind the Potters’ goal.
Many see that League Cup match and Young’s goal as the turning point in United’s fortunes.
The ‘fringe’ players have been thrust into the limelight and have finally been playing to their potential, as well as with energy and passion. As a united, United have been pushing players forward, creating more scoring chances; while being solid on defense and stifling their opponent’s chances.
Danny Welbeck has stepped into a more central role since Robin Van Persie’s injury and looks like a completely different player. He suffered a knock against West Ham on Saturday but will be travelling with the club to Hull City. United will want him at 100% because the England international has scored three times in his last two BPL contests.
Johnny Evans has started the last few matches in central defense and done a good job of leading his more ‘inexperienced’ partners. Phil Jones has seen time alongside Evans, but has also started in United’s midfield. Chris Smalling is the other centre-back and has taken shown increasing maturity with each start.
And then there’s Wayne Rooney who has hands down been the club’s best player all season. The striker is one goal away from becoming only the second player in Premier League history to reach the 150 goal mark for a single Premier League club (Thierry Henry scored 175 goals for Arsenal).
There are those who are concerned about the forward’s ongoing contract talks, but for now, Rooney has put all his focus on to the pitch and United have benefitted from his play. It is safe to say that United would be much worse off had they allowed Rooney to leave over the summer.
The team appears to have its swagger back, perhaps taking its cue from Rooney. They no longer look in ‘fear’, as some experts were quick to point out two weeks ago.
United have also been boosted by the return of one of the club’s most reliable and respected players, Darren Fletcher. There is no measuring the magnitude that his return has had to their locker room. While it also appears that veterans Nemanja Vidic and Michael Carrick may be ready to make a return to the lineup, although Carrick may be a better candidate for a New Year’s Day return.
You will hear in the build-up to this match that Hull City has lost all four of their previous Premier League meetings against Manchester United; including the last seven in all competitions. But history has no bearing on this current fixture. That was then and this is now.
Right now, Hull City boasts the league’s best defensive record at home and will be energized from the moment they step off the bus outside of the KC Stadium. This is the kind of match which players and supporters have been anticipating since the end of last season when the club finished runners-up in the Championship and earned promotion back into the Premier League.
The stadium will be overflowing with black and amber wearing fans who will cram into every corner of the 25,000 seat venue. While Manchester United’s fantastic away support will be in full voice well before the start of the early kick-off.
Match referee Michael Oliver will have his hands full in what should be a physical and feisty encounter. Steve Bruce’s club will be determined and organized against the champions. While David Moyes and Manchester United will need to continue their recent form if they’re to have a chance a breaching Hull City’s superior home defense.
It will be the perfect start to a Boxing Day full of football.