This article originally appeared on SpursStatMan.com.
Unless Steve Bruce springs a Sam Allardyce-style tactical reinvention – and let’s be honest, he isn’t going to – Sunday’s match between Tottenham Hotspur and Hull City will follow a similar script to both of Spurs’ other encounters against newly promoted teams this season. It will be one-way traffic from beginning to end and almost certainly end in victory.
Indeed, it could even be a massacre: Tottenham have the second highest average shots per game total, while Hull have the second lowest; Spurs have the second highest average possession total and Hull have the second lowest; Spurs concede the second lowest shots per game total and only three clubs allow more than Hull; no team plays a greater percentage of their football in the opposition half than Spurs and only three clubs spend more time in their own half than Hull.
So, whatever else happens, expect yet another away side to arrive at White Hart Lane and park the team bus in front of their goal. In many ways, that is a good thing for André Villas-Boas: the West Ham debacle aside, Tottenham have generally been good at breaking down defensive opponents. Even if they have not been consistently excellent or taken all of the chances they have created, they have certainly improved on last season’s showings against teams playing for a point.
Without being disrespectful towards Hull, this is exactly the sort of game AVB would want at this moment: having suffered a heavy and improbable defeat in the last league match at White Hart Lane, and following on from a midweek tie 1,500 miles away, a home tie against limited and severely injury-hit opposition is just the ticket.
The match could potentially have been an interesting tactical battle, as Steve Bruce’s side won promotion from the Championship primarily using a 3-5-2 formation. However, the Tigers’ manager has unhesitatingly ditched the back three in favour of a more orthodox 4-4-1-1, quite accurately stating that using a back three in the Premier League makes no sense given that almost every team now operates with only one striker.
Therefore, the fixture will play out almost as an elaborate and overly committed ‘attack vs defence’ training session. Even so, despite their lack of possession and their low goals tally Hull have been relatively prolific at creating chances this season. It could be that Spurs need two or three goals to make the game totally safe.
In goal, Steve Harper will make his Hull Premier League debut, deputising for the injured Allan McGregor. The veteran former Newcastle keeper is one of the most respectable players in English football but his ability never really matched up to the esteem in which he is held. Expect Roberto Soldado, Gylfi Sigurðsson and Andros Townsend to pepper his goal with shots and, in all likelihood, find a way past Harper fairly quickly.
As with most promoted sides these days, Hull’s back four reads a bit like a ‘Who’s Who’ of unimpressive bottom-of-the-table fodder from years gone by. Liam Rosenior, Abdoulaye Faye, Curtis Davies and Maynor Figueroa all have experience at this level and on their best day could frustrate the home side. However, despite keeping clean sheets in two of their last three league games, one would expect a side of Tottenham’s class to dismantle that unit fairly easily.
Injuries to Jake Livermore and Robert Koren mean the Tigers’ midfield will have something of a patchwork feel to it. Tom Huddlestone has impressed since his move to Humberside and will remain as one of the first names on the teamsheet, but whether he will be partnered by David Meyler or Stephen Quinn remains to be seen. One suspects that the more athletic and defensive Meyler will get the nod, given the likelihood of his side spending huge amounts of time without the ball.
Long-time Bruce favourite Ahmed Elmohamady will provide physical cut-and-thrust on the right, while top-scorer Robbie Brady will be a busy presence on the left. With Koren and striker Sone Aluko both absent, Brady will likely be given direct instruction to shoot from distance whenever possible. The Irish winger’s 1.1 shots per game and 1.4 key passes per game make him statistically their most productive outlet and, with so many key players missing, if he doesn’t bring his shooting boots on Sunday afternoon then Hull have little to no chance of getting a result.
Up front, the uninspiring Yannick Sagbo will continue in Danny Graham’s absence, most probably supported by George Boyd. The latter is something of a rarity: a genuine flair player from these isles. While Boyd’s lack of pace and physicality in general has prevented him reaching English football’s top flight until now, he is certainly capable of moments of genius. Paulinho and Mousa Dembélé must be diligent and deny him time on the ball every time he gets it.
For the home side, things should pretty much continue as normal but there could be a couple of surprises. As Danny Rose and Zeki Fryers are injured, Jan Vertonghen will move to left-back and Vlad Chiriches will continue in the starting lineup. Lewis Holtby is expected to start in the number ten role, with Christian Eriksen having played ninety minutes in Transnistria on Thursday night.
If I were AVB – and, God willing, one day I will be – I would be very tempted to start Erik Lamela, but with Townsend and Sigurðsson in such excellent form it would be a gamble. It is the sort of headache every manager wants, though, and given the relative feebleness of the opposition, it is hard not to feel that whatever decision is made the result will be a clear, if potentially hard won, Tottenham victory.