How Marco Silva Is Silencing Paul Merson & Phil Thompson Without Saying A Word

How Marco Silva Is Silencing Paul Merson & Phil Thompson Without Saying A Word
Feb 23, 2017

Featured Hull City

“What does he know about Hull? It’s quite astonishing that they are plumped for someone like this. It’s just baffling, when there’s a lot of people out there. He’s not got a clue.” – Paul Merson
A month later & Paul Merson will probably be left red-faced after his comments about Marco Silva’s appointment as Hull City manager during the New Year.
Making a handful of signings & adding tactical + motivational prowess at the KC Stadium, Hull have gone from certain relegation fodders to a respected team capable of beating the drop, where along the way Silva is winning matches as well as a fair share of admirers across fans, his own players & even his managerial peers.
After successful stints at Estoril, Sporting Club & Olympiakos, Silva has found himself in England. The Portuguese man comes with a very solid CV for his young managerial experience, winning trophies with Olympiakos & Sporting while somewhat overachieving with Estoril. How has Marco masterminded Hull’s current revival in such a short space of time? Let’s dig deeper:


Hull made a number of eye-catching transfers in January. Some loans, others permanent buys. What stands out for me is the sort of signings he’s made in retrospective to Hull’s current situation.
Lazar Markovic, Omar Niasse & Alfred N’Diaye were some of the players bought in by Silva. What all three of these guys have in common is that they previously performed very well in smaller clubs in Europe.
These performances earned them moves to bigger clubs in perhaps bigger leagues. From there, these players sort of failed to live up to their hype at these bigger clubs & have been loaned out to Hull. Silva has taken in players who are talented but have lost their way a bit, making them hungry to prove a point to Marco as well as to their parent teams. A relegation battle is the perfect environment to achieve this goal.
Then we have two more signings, Omar Elabdellaoui & Evandro have played under Silva at Olympiakos & Estoril respectively so are no stranger to his methods.
Lastly, we have Kamil Grosicki & Andrea Ranocchia, two players who are not new to playing in big leagues & have well experienced at top international level for their nations.
These signings soften the blow of losing Jake Livermore & Robert Snodgrass, who were arguably the two most vital cogs under previous manager, Mike Phelan.

The Silva Philosophy

Like any decent Portuguese manager, Marco Silva has been compared to José Mourinho in his native country & now in England. But this comparison does have much clout to it in terms of their tactical philosophy & style of man-management.
Silva likes to motivate his players with positive messages & rallies his men to fight for their lives game after game. His attention to detail in training has been highlighted by many Hull players recently too in such a short space of time.
Like Mourinho, Silva is a manager who’s first thought is to reduce risk. Defensive organisation lays the platform for how his teams like to play. This was the same at his previous clubs & is currently the game-model he has set for Hull.
Reducing risk is key for the Hull manager, but he doesn’t sacrifice the flexibility of his team. Spaced out in a 4-2-3-1 in possession & a 4-1-4-1 than can mould into a 4-5-1 out of possession, Silva has stuck with his trusty formations depending on the phase of play.

(Made via


(Made via

Out Of Possession: Organised Press & Deep Wingers

Within their defensive block (4-1-4-1), the players look to maintain their shape & will only engage in pressing the opposition when the ball arrives in certain areas or when a certain type of pass is made. These ‘pressing triggers’ have been set by Silva very well in a short space of time.

Hull’s 4-1-4-1 vs United. The control of space here isn’t amazing by Silva’s men but this was probably due to players not being so familiar with his ideas at the time.

Recently Hull have shown much improvement in this aspect.

In midfield, Tom Huddlestone will normally sit between the Hull backline & the midfield, looking to sweep up anything that comes between these lines. His midfield partner, Alfred N’Diaye, sits higher up the pitch, looking to press more aggressively in hope of a turnover. Alfred is given more freedom to press players on the left side of the pitch in an aggressive manner.
Evandro will also drop deeper from his attacking midfield position. N’Diaye & Evandro look to screen players behind them using their cover-shadow to block off passing lanes within their path.
In the picture above, Liverpool’s Coutinho tries to step into the midfield block of Hull, whereas Silva’s men are very compact in their shape, were able to surround the Brazilan & win the ball off him. Coutinho stepping inside Hull’s block was a trigger to press in numbers.
Clucas & Grosicki act almost as the defensive winger in this phase. Although Clucas sits deeper & will tuck into the pitch more horizontally from the left when the ball is played on the opposite wing. Grosicki uses his energy to harass the opposition & isn’t as structured in his behaviour compared to Clucas, but as he (and Markovic) are more attack minded, sitting higher up the pitch makes them prime counter-attacking targets in transition.
 The central defenders under Silva behave a lot more proactively. Again because of the compactness of Hull’s defensive block, a common theme this year has been central defenders stepping out of their back four, looking to steal the ball or not allowing the ball carrier to turn & face goal. This is easier to achieve as players are within a closer proximity to themselves & the pressing triggers in certain areas have been well set by Silva. Harry Maguire has shone in this aspect of play, using his strength, timing & ball-carrying ability to good effect, him stepping out of line to win the ball has created many counter-attacking opportunities for Hull.

 In Possession: Energetic, Vertical & Asymmetric Wide Players

It’s no secret to many that Silva is a man that loves the art of counter-attacking. His teams are happy to concede possession in hope of exploiting space behind the attacking team. 4-2-3-1 creates a natural momentum for certain players moving upwards from a 4-1-4-1 shape. Silva has N’Diaye moving higher in attack while Huddlestone sits deeper, using his deep playmaking ability to change the point of attacks as well as his defensive ability to stop counters.

Ranocchia’s assist for Niasse’s goal against Liverpool. One pass exploiting the gap behind Liverpool’s defenders immediately after winning the ball. (via FourFourTwo Stats Zone)

In his previous clubs, wingers have been vital to Silva’s attacking model & that hasn’t changed as till now for him. The flanks are Hull’s go-to attacking route, & from here Silva has his men create attacks where the ball-near winger is much higher & will be supported by the full-back behind him, while the winger & full-back on the ball-far flank sits deeper in to maintain defensive balance.
As mentioned before, Grosicki sits higher than Clucas when the team is put of possession & therefore will naturally be a target for counter-attacks.

3 Hull pass-maps under Silva (via @11tegen11). Notice how one winger tends to be higher & wider whilst another is deeper & will even tuck more into the pitch. 

Niasse is finding form at Hull City after a nightmare spell at Everton (where he wasn’t even given a locker for the new season & was relegated to their U23 squad). Him or Abel Hernandez play as lone strikers & will use their pace to get behind defensive lines, while also using dynamic movements & link-up play to bring other players into attacks.
Evandro’s playmaking ability will prove crucial for Hull if they are to stay in the Premier League for next season.
His style of play goes hand-in-hand with Silva’s game model, hardworking & has an eye for a pass & Hull have been void of any real creative outlet from central positions. The former Porto man will prove a key factor in providing key passes.


Marco Silva has silenced many of his critics so far in the Premier League. Seemingly a man on a mission, Marco will be convinced with the start he has made with Hull so far on & off the pitch. Will it be enough to save The Tigers from the drop? Who knows? But whatever happens, I always say that football is deeper than just the final scorelines & watching 5 of Hull’s matches so, under the Portuguese gaffer, it doesn’t take much time to realize the instant improvement his side have currently undergone in such little time.
Paul Merson probably owes him an apology also & I’m sure Hull will not be regretting hiring anyone else. Marco Silva, we salute you.

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