MANCHESTER, Aug 25: Hull started the season as the English Premier League's "crisis club," regarded by some as the worst-prepared team ever to begin a top-flight campaign.
No manager. Owners that want out. Only 13 fit senior players. Not a penny spent in the offseason. One of their best players sold to a lower-league club on the eve of the season.
With two wins from two games, including one over reigning champion Leicester, the side from the northeast of England is confounding the grim preseason predictions and is mixing with Premier League royalty atop the fledgling standings.
Hull sits alongside Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea on a maximum six points so far. One of them — United — visits the KCOM Stadium on Saturday.
"I'm not sure we could have imagined or hoped for the start we've had," Hull midfielder Shaun Maloney said. "But when the games come along, all the stuff off the field gets pushed to the back of your mind."
The build-up to the season couldn't have been more different for United and Hull.
At United, Jose Mourinho arrived as coach, around $200 million was spent on a quartet of signings that includes world-record transfer Paul Pogba and star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, while the team's best players were retained despite its failure to qualify for the Champions League.
Over at Hull, Steve Bruce resigned as manager three weeks before the season started, reportedly unhappy at not being able to sign players while the club's owners — the Allam family — look to sell up. Long-term injuries have robbed them of Michael Dawson, Moses Odubajo and Allan McGregor, while Mohamed Diame — the player whose winning goal in the League Championship playoff secured Hull's return to the Premier League — was sold to Newcastle in early August.
Meanwhile, Hull fans disillusioned with the owners continue to protest against the way the club is being run, and will likely do so again on Saturday.
"No communication, no manager, no engagement, no signings, no identity, no concessions, no honesty," the Hull City Supporters' Trust said in a statement.
It's against this backdrop that caretaker manager Mike Phelan is working, but the former Manchester United assistant coach has come up with a winning formula.
Hard work, good preparation and making the most of limited goalscoring chances are reasons behind Hull's flying start — a 2-1 win over Leicester followed by a 2-0 victory at Swansea. Midfielder David Meyler gave an insight into Phelan's methods after the Swansea game on Saturday.
"We could tell you everything about them — how long they sleep, how many times they go to the toilet every day," Meyler said. "That's just the type of person he is. He's a winner and he's trying to embed that into us."
Meyler wants Phelan to be hired as full-time manager and that possibility could materialize now that Hull's No. 1 target, Wales coach Chris Coleman, has pledged his future to the national team. Phelan has spent almost all his coaching career as a No. 2, most significantly to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
"When you're Sir Alex's assistant for long enough, I presume you go through everything," Meyler said, "and he's not taking any short-cuts now."
Phelan said he is "enjoying the moment" and that the next step in his career is to become a manager. Beat United this weekend, and the job is surely his.
Here are some things to watch out for in the third round of games:
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is already setting about making history at Manchester United.
The Swedish striker scored the winner in the Community Shield and has also found the net in United's opening league wins, against Bournemouth and Southampton. Against Hull, he is looking to become only the second player to score in each of his first four games for United, after Jimmy Hanson in 1924-25.
Ibrahimovic is one of nine players to score in their first three United games.
Looking for a third straight league win under new coach Pep Guardiola, Manchester City hosts West Ham on Sunday and could have a new goalkeeper between the posts.
Chile international Claudio Bravo arrived in Manchester on Tuesday to conclude his move from Barcelona, and could get his debut if the transfer is tied up in time.
Chelsea hosts Burnley on Saturday, while the standout fixture this weekend is Tottenham vs. Liverpool at White Hart Lane on Saturday.
Three teams are yet to get off the mark in the Premier League this season, and two of them play each other on Saturday when Bournemouth travels to Crystal Palace.
Sunderland is the other side to open with back-to-back losses and visits Southampton.