Mark Hughes paid tribute to the positive effect Italian duo Maurizio Sarri and Gianfranco Zola have had at Chelsea.
While many are backing Liverpool or Manchester United for the Premier League title, unbeaten Chelsea are playing swashbuckling football and getting results.
As Southampton boss Hughes prepares to face his former club at St Mary’s on Sunday, he contrasted Sarri’s playing style to that of former boss Antonio Conte, who left the club under a cloud last summer.
‘It’s still early days but I think there’s a shift in what they are trying to do. The previous manager was your more typical Italian coach. They were defensively sound and then would look to counter-attack and break quickly. That’s the usual formula of Italian coaches.
‘I would suggest Mr Sarri has a different background in terms of his coaching education, so he’s done that a different way. That’s maybe why he’s a little bit different in terms of Italian coaches and how they approach it, he wants to be on the front foot.
‘Pressing in high positions and asking questions of the opposition rather than sitting back and waiting to counter. It’s interesting.
‘That seems to be the way the top teams are going now, trying to be proactive.
‘They’re trying to be on the front foot and pressing from high positions and making mistakes in the opposition back line. And trying to capitalise on them.’
Hughes played with Chelsea coach Zola at Stamford Bridge for two seasons and recalled his prodigious work ethic.
Hughes said Zola would be working behind the scenes with the squad to share his secrets and make football enjoyable again.
‘He was very conscientious as a player in terms of his work over and above what he did with the group. He would always do individual work, so I would imagine he’s still doing that as a coach.’
‘I’d be surprised if he wasn’t practising free kicks. He used to spend what seemed like hours after training sessions practising free-kicks.
There’s a reason why these guys are good. It’s because of repetition. Franco always used to do that as a player. I’d be very surprised if he wasn’t doing that as a coach with the likes of Eden Hazard.’