Middlesbrough travels to West Yorkshire to face Hull City with Michael Carrick in pursuit of his first points as head coach.
Middlesbrough's turbulent start to the season saw them flounder in and around the relegation zone. Steve Gibson dispatched Chris Wilder from his head coach role, leaving fan favourite Leo Percovich and a patchwork of the club's development coaches in charge of first-team proceedings.
The Uruguayan would spend his temporary tenure trying to turn around the misfortunes of the once-European finalists. He succeeded in getting points on the board, and his tactical shift towards the end of his reign indicated that the side was starting to turn in the right direction. Unfortunately, Middlesbrough would prove to have the manoeuvrability of a cargo boat, with the side looking uninspired during his final game.
In the background, Neil Bauser and Kieran Scott were toiling over a permanent replacement for Wilder. They would eventually settle on and announce Michael Carrick. The former Manchester United player and coach deserve his own article, which should be released shortly. However, this change in leadership is unavoidable when discussing the club's upcoming games.
Hull City is not Carrick's first game in charge of the club. The former midfielder, that was once dubbed the only English midfielder that could play a deep-lying playmaker role at the top level, was in charge when the side travelled to Preston. Carrick rang the changes at Preston North End. He binned the 3-5-2 favoured by Wilder and the 4-3-3 favoured by Percovich for an asymmetrical 4-4-2 formation. His take on the traditional English system allowed the side to take advantage early on. A Chuba Akpom goal gave the team the lead before a thunderous strike from Jakobsen and a 90th-minute conversion by Storey obliterated the teams' hopes of holding onto a point.
Middlesbrough now sits with their legs dangling in the relegation zone, but Michael Carrick's tenure is still in its infancy. We have only seen one game under his purview shortly after his appointment. He had little time to implement his ideas before kickoff last weekend. An extra couple of days of preparation should place him in better stead for the mid-week fixture. However, the Boro we will see against Hull City is far from the fully realised vision that Carrick will have for the club moving forward. Nonetheless, Hull City is far from one of the stronger sides in the league, and the former world-class midfielder will see it as an opportunity to kickstart his tenure in terms of points.
Hull City have had their own qualms this season. The Tigers fired Georgian head coach Shota Arveladze placing Andy Dawson in temporary charge of the side. Hull City's volatile form has resulted in some of the worst performances of any side this season. Still, under Dawson, they have shown a small incremental improvement, and his current record of 1.5 points per game is nothing to be sniffed at. Nonetheless, their record of one clean sheet all season shows their weaknesses. Middlesbrough needs to maximise these faults and keep its own issues in check if they want to pack three points on the bus home.
Hull City's change in management saw Andy Dawson take up the hot seat on a temporary basis. He was a tiger fan favourite during his playing days and rejoined the club as an assistant coach in 2019 to coach the under-19s. Dawson's success with the youth team would earn him a promotion to the senior backroom staff at the start of this season. When Arveladze was sacked, the club turned to him despite his limited experience in the top job.
The intention was for Dawson to be little more than a temporary stop-gap. However, when the negotiations with Pedro Martins collapsed, the club decided to give Dawson a fair crack of the whip.
The 44-year-old's lack of experience in a management role means that allowing him to take over as manager at the club presents a considerable risk. Hull City's precarious position at the time of his appointment highlighted that the gamble could cost the side's Championship future. Nonetheless, the appointment of Andy Dawson may be astute as he has playing experience at this level and in this predicament which could prove useful in a struggling side.
Dawson has done a respectable job since taking on the role too. He has averaged 1.5 points per game across six games which is a stable return and continuing in this vain would result in safety for Hull City. However, they have also suffered from polarised results during his tenure as the side has yet to add a draw to their tally. The sides lurches from one extreme to another could be a cause for concern as it could teeter into a run of defeats causing another slump.
It remains to be seen if he will keep his position at the club. Dawson has shown himself to be a sturdy operator but the ownership may look for more experienced capable hands due to what is at stake.
Hull City's form in recent weeks reflects the two extremes of the sides current form as the side picked up six points from five games.
These six points, with wins over Rotherham United and Blackpool, show that the side is capable of winning games but it is heavily dependent on the sides attacking prowess. Hull City racked up seven goals from these two wins (Blackpool 3-1, Rotherham 4-2) which is a considerable return. However, in each of the other games, Hull City failed to hit the net once (Blackburn 0-1, Birmingham 0-2, Huddersfield 0-2).
Simply put, Hull City are heavily reliant on outscoring the opposition as their defensive woes have seen them leak a phenomenal nine goals in five games.
One To Watch: Jean Michael Seri
It is vitally important that a newly promoted side strengthens on arrival to a new league. Some teams struggle to find the balance between maintaining consistency and backing the players that got you there in the first place and bringing in proven quality to increase the teams chances of survival. Hull City opted to ring the changes bringing in seventeen new players. However, a large proportion of the Tigers' new recruits were based in Turkey with their owner utilising his connection to the country to prise away talented players such as Ozan Tufan and Adama Traore (not that one). Which left the team with few players experienced with the ins and outs of Championship football. To counteract this Hull City went big and brought in Jean Michael Seri.
The announcement of Jean Michael Seri's arrival at Hull City took everyone by surprise. The Ivorian is a very talented player and a Premier League promotion winner with Fulham. Many fans expected him to switch the white and black shirt for another team competing in the top echelons of the Championship. His talent in the centre of the park should have been more than enough for him to earn favour and interest from numerous clubs vying for his signature. So his arrival at newly promoted Hull City has to be seen as an absolute coup for the club.
At 31, Seri brings a wealth of experience in the top flight of French football, the Premier League and Championship which Dawson and his predecessor Arveladze will be looking to tap into.
Aside from the know-how that comes with recruiting Seri, Hull City have also brought in one of the best midfielders in the league. He has averaged an outstanding 89% pass accuracy this season with him making an average of 43 passes per 90, placing his average higher than any of Middlesbrough's current starting XI. Seri's 1.8 key passes per 90 means that he does more than recycle the ball for Hull City too, creating opportunities and beefing up his pre-assist numbers.
Despite being involved in key passes, Seri typically sits deeper in the midfield to ochestrate play and act as a metronome dictating the teams tempo. It is this role that has allowed him to rack up such consistent passing numbers. However, he needs, and has, the technical ability to perform this role in the heart of midfield. Since he sits deep in midfield, he is also called upon to protect the defence at times with a solid 1.5 tackles per 90 and 0.7 interceptions per 90 showing that he is no pushover despite defensive actions not being his primary game.
Hull City is heavily dependent on Jean Michael Seri, but the Ivorian has more than enough technical ability and intelligence to excel with such heavy responsibility. That said, he struggled last time out with Dawson pulling him out of the game at the halfway point. These are rare occasions for an otherwise positive performer.
Diamond in the Rough: Oscar Estupinan
As we have established, Hull City are extremely reliant on their attacking talents in order to get points on the board. In recent weeks this responsibility has been shared among the squad with five of their players contributing the sides last six goals. The ability to find goals across the side is certainly an advantage, and not having an over-reliance on one or two players means that their form is not dictated by the whims of an individual players form. This is an important factor in the sides continued steady points haul in recent weeks as Oscar Estupinan, the man in question here has struggled for goalscoring form.
The Columbian poacher arrived into the Championship with little fanfare outside of Hull City circles. A free transfer to a newly promoted team, no one suspected that it would be much more than an average acquisition which may supply the occasional goal which could prove vital to the sides survival hopes. The 25 year old may have deserved more attention than he received though. His record in Portugal speaks for itself. Estupinan averaged a goal every other game at Guimaraes between August 2020 and his departure from the club. A similar record to the five in eleven he struck up at Barcelona SC and the less prolific but still impressive 14 in 33 at Denizlispor. It was clear that he had a goal scoring touch and he put it to use as soon as he arrived in England.
In his first four fixtures, Estupinan would score a massive seven goals. Two braces against Norwich City and West Brom showed that he wasn't intimidated by big fixtures either and he quickly became a point of intense interest from Championship fans. There was a belief that Hull City has unwrapped a prolific potentially Premier League level goalscorer in Estupinan. Naturally, it was too early to make such predictions and they would prove to be unwise as the Columbian would have to wait five games before he struck home again. This was his eighth and final goal for Hull City to date.
His previous prolific form has all but evaporated into a trough of poor form resulting in Dawson benching him in recent games. However, many strikers go through inconsistent fits and starts of goalscoring form. It is an unfortunate consequence of the sport for many forwards. Yet, the prolific poacher is still in there if he can unlock it and return to his previous impressive form then it could prove to be a real danger for every other team in the Championship.
Hot Prospect: Jacob Greaves
It doesn't seem wise to propose that a defender deserves the Hot Prospect hotseat. Hull City have managed just a single cleansheet all season. The Tigers have the worst defensive record in the Championship by some margin as they have shopped a massive 32 goals in 17 games, five more than the next worst record. Certainly, Jacob Greaves has spent more time than most watching the ball hit the back of the net he intends to protect and that is not a good sign. Even more concerning, Greaves' defence has conceded the third highest xG showing that it isn't just goalkeeping woes that have produced the teams concerning defensive form.
Despite all this negative context, fotmob have rated Greaves as their second best player this season and whoscored.com as their first. This is an opinion shared by Middlesbrough too as the Teessiders attempted to buy the left-footed centre back last summer. How can a player directly associated with the worst defence in the league be so positively evaluated? It's important to remember that defending is a unit-based activity in football. Every player needs to hold their own for a team to be effective in defending. If that is not the case and a few players fall short then there's a leaky defence. Equally, the system or style adopted by the manager can result in a high rate of goals conceded despite the best intentions and actions of the defence. In Greaves' case it is likely a measure of both of these issues.
Greaves' defensive contribution is unmatched by anyone in the Hull City side. The 22 year old has made the most tackles and clearances showing a keen desire to both stop attacks in their tracks and remove the danger at the earliest opportunity. Greaves is also left footed making him perfect for a back three or partnering with a right footed centre back. While his distribution, with the second most passes in the side shows that he is more than capable with the ball at his feet. However, his distribution accuracy could do with some work as his respectable 70% pass success rate does mean that three in every ten passes could result in a turnover in a dangerous area.
Hull City recognise the talent in Greaves tying him down to a long term contract over the summer. He is showing the potential to perform in the Premier League in the near future, but the poor defensive record attributed to him via the team will mean that he is overlooked by most said teams at the moment. If they fix their defensive woes then expect to see Premier League sides swarming.
Prediction: Hull City 0-2 Middlesbrough
Hull City's poor defensive record will prove to be too much to overcome as even the best efforts of Jacob Greaves fail to prevent Michael Carrick earning his first three points as Boro boss. This will not be an easy game though, Hull City have consistently shown that they can be a real danger when they aren't dealt with properly.