Steve Bruce's side are in Europe for the first time in the club's history but Premier League survival remains the main aim after a 16th-placed finish last termBy Chris Davie
A Europa League campaign is already underway as Hull City attempt to balance their first European adventure with Premier League survival. Goal assesses how Steve Bruce's side are shaping up ahead of the new season.
Having completed the signings of strikers Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic in January, Bruce has opted to bolster his numbers in defence and midfield ahead of the new campaign.
After spending last season on loan at Hull and appearing in all but two Premier League games, Jake Livermore has joined on a permanent deal from Tottenham.
Bruce has increased his options on the flanks with the signings of Robert Snodgrass from Norwich City and Tom Ince from Blackpool.
As Norwich fans will know, Snodgrass offers a reliable option on the right wing and is capable of chipping in with goals over the course of the campaign.
Ince meanwhile, still has everything to prove in the Premier League after his loan stint at Crystal Palace last term. The 22-year-old made just eight appearances under Tony Pulis and struggled to displace Jason Puncheon or Yannick Bolasie on either wing.
Andrew Robertson arrives from Dundee United and will contest Maynor Figueroa for the left-back position, while Harry Maguire, who has joined from Sheffield United, will add competition in central defence. Both have impressed Bruce during pre-season and look capable of securing regular roles.
Only players who made a minimal impact during the club’s Premier League campaign last season have left the KC Stadium.
Robert Koren was the most influential out of those who have departed but the Slovenian turns 34 in September and his contribution was declining.
Abdoulaye Faye managed just three appearances in the Premier League last term, while Matty Fryatt was largely restricted to a regular role as a substitute.
Bruce has said this summer that his current team is “as good as any side this club has ever had”, but a substantial challenge in the Europa League may be a bridge too far, given that the competition has stretched the resources of both Newcastle United and Swansea City in previous seasons.
Hull’s attack could spark into life given that Jelavic and Long have had over half a year together in matches and on the training pitch, while the central-midfield three of Livermore, Tom Huddlestone and David Meyler have developed an understanding following a full season together.
Bruce has acknowledged that he is in need of another central midfielder, given that he is short of alternatives aside from his regular three, while Geoff Cameron, Stoke’s versatile defender who can cover at right-back and centre-back, is also a reported target.
Bruce has already missed out on a loan deal for Arsenal’s Carl Jenkinson, who’s joined West Ham for the season, while Michael Dawson remains a summer target, though the Hull boss admits that agreeing a deal for the 30-year-old could be difficult.
The arrivals of Ince and Snodgrass means that Bruce now has more options on either wing, which was an area that desperately needed addressing given that Ahmed Elmohamady started every Premier League fixture last season on the right flank, while Figueroa faced little competition for a place on the opposite wing.
Goals were a problem for Hull last season as they finished the campaign as the fourth-lowest scorers in the Premier League.
This term, the onus is on both Jelavic and Long to fire Hull clear of the relegation pack but it was the Republic of Ireland international who had the bigger influence out of the two following his arrival at the KC Stadium.
Long’s goal return has never hit double figures over the course of a league campaign but the 27-year-old's involvement in attacking build-up play often goes unnoticed and he now has the chance to forge a consistent partnership with Jelavic which could ease Hull’s relegation concerns.
*2013-14 Premier League stats
Hull appear to be in safe hands with Bruce, who has been relegated just the once with Birmingham City in eight Premier League seasons.
Bruce’s 3-5-2 system enabled Hull City to achieve automatic promotion in 2013 and the 53-year-old has no plans to abandon the formation ahead of the new campaign.
One of the biggest challenges Bruce faces, much like Louis van Gaal at Manchester United, is to fit Hull’s new wingers - Ince and Snodgrass - into his system, with both players acclimatised to a conventional 4-4-2.
Another aim for Bruce will be to improve his side's away form from last season. Hull gained just 12 points on the road last season with only Cardiff City and Norwich City securing fewer.
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While another cup run would be welcome, distancing themselves from a relegation scrap will be the main aim with a comfortable finish towards mid-table.
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Making an impact in the Europa League would be a bonus but Bruce lacks a wealth of options which should limit the club from progressing to the latter stages of the competition.
In terms of his squad, Bruce will be hoping the £14m outlay on Jelavic and Long in January will fully click into gear this term after signs of encouragement at times last season.