FOR someone who last recalls playing centre-half as an 11-year-old, Jake Livermore has made a remarkable good fist of his new adopted position for Hull City.
The former England player’s unexpected switch came early in pre-season amid an injury crisis that had left the Tigers down to just one fit central defender and one full-back.
It was between him and Tom Huddlestone as to who answered the SOS call. “Yeah, it was a double-sided coin and I picked the wrong one,” dead-panned Livermore yesterday after being asked whether the two former Tottenham Hotspur team-mates had tossed for the right to partner Curtis Davies at the heart of the Hull backline.
Ten or so weeks on, however, and Livermore has been a revelation. His reading of the game and assured touch, two prerequisites for any central defender wanting to flourish in today’s Premier League, have been a big factor in how well Hull have handled what looked a tough start to the season even before the various travails that befell the Yorkshire club during the summer.
So much so, in fact, that the 26-year-old is still partnering Davies despite Harry Maguire having returned to fitness in late August and captain Michael Dawson approaching his own return.
“Not a problem at all,” is Livermore’s response when asked for his initial thoughts at answering the SOS call to move into the back four. “I am here for the team, to do a job.
“The manager showed his confidence in me to play there and that is all I needed. I had played there a couple of times in the past, but that was when I was about 11.
“It is, though, a position that a few people, including a few old coaches, have said in the past that they saw me there. I reluctantly agreed.
“But I have thoroughly enjoyed it and I will play there for as long as the manager wants me to. As long as I can do a job for the team, I am happy.”
The visit of Chelsea, who have lost just once in 33 meetings with the Tigers, rounds off a hugely testing start for a club fresh from a year in the Championship.
Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and champions Leicester City were all on the early schedule for Hull along with trips to Swansea City and Burnley.
Considering the stellar names on that list, a return of seven points from six games means Hull have a decent base to build from in the quest to stay up this term.
Livermore has played a full part in that encouraging start, with the Londoner rarely putting a foot wrong in either of the victories over Leicester and Swansea.
Not that his stint in the back four has not been without its teething troubles.
“Curtis has had to stop me going forward a few times,” he laughs. “There have been a few calls from the sidelines, too. But I do enjoy the role.
“For starters, most of the time, everything is in front of you. I love playing football and I have been taught from a very young age to want the ball and to play. The game is evolving and improving all the time. We have to adapt and, thankfully, the manager’s new philosophy is exactly that.
“We have done our best with what we have had and we are very happy with how we are playing and a system that we believe in.”
That system may have to be disrupted today due to Ahmed Elmohamady’s red card in last weekend’s 5-1 loss at Liverpool meaning the Egyptian’s run of 82 consecutive Premier League appearances for Hull will come to an end.
For Mike Phelan, this brings a headache due to Moses Odubajo being on the long-term list of absentees and Elmohamady his only ready-made replacement.
A switch to the 3-5-2 formation favoured by predecessor Steve Bruce may be the solution for Phelan. Or he may simply co-opt another midfielder, David Meyler, into defensive duties.
Either way, Hull are determined to bounce back from not only the drubbing at Anfield but also the 4-1 loss at the KCOM to Arsenal a fortnight ago.
Livermore, dismissed in the Gunners defeat for deliberately preventing a certain goal with his hand, said: “We are not happy to concede so many goals, by any means.
“However, there were still positives to take out of the games we have had – and our confidence hasn’t been affected, we are a tight-knit group.
“In the past two weeks, we have walked into two teams in fine form. It is a difficult enough task with 11, let alone 10 men.”
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Jamie Vardy. Alexis Sanchez and Roberto Firmino are just some of the big-name strikers that Hull have already faced this term and another lays in wait today.
Diego Costa, with seven goals in eight appearances, poses not only a goal threat but also a physical one with the Spanish striker already having had his fair share of disciplinary problems since moving to this country.
Livermore, however, insists the Tigers will not be fazed.
“We tackle every team and every striker differently,” he said. “We show them the same respect, whoever it is. We will be working on ways to stop them, but also on what we can do and that is what we are confident in.”
As for the verbals that some strikers, including Costa, are renowned for during games, Livermore added: “I don’t get involved with any of that. Though, if you ask me after Saturday, maybe…
“But, no, I don’t get involved with any shenanigans with the forwards. It is a big enough task.”
Tackling a Chelsea attack led by Costa could be Livermore’s last shift in defence with Dawson set to return to training outdoors on Monday with a possible return to action pencilled in for a fortnight today at Bournemouth.
“I have told the physios to keep him on the bed for a couple more weeks,” laughed Livermore when asked about the impending return of Hull’s captain.
“No, seriously, he is a fantastic character to have around, both on the field and off it. The lads are delighted he has made a speedy recovery, that’s for sure.
“As for me, I will play there (in defence) for as long as the manager wants. If he wants me in midfield, I will do that. I am just happy to have helped us get a good start.”