Mark Hughes is looking forward to reigniting hostilities with Chelsea counterpart Jose Mourinho after being the last Premier League manager that the Portuguese faced before being sacked in 2007.
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Mourinho face a Hughes-led Blackburn Rovers before his relationship with Roman Abramovich completely broke down and the Chelsea manager was relieved of his duties at Chelsea.
The Stoke City manager has spent the last six years missing the special challenge of facing the Special One and is eager to renew combat at the Britannia Stadium -- even if he feels Mourinho's Chelsea are starting to emerge into a genuine force to challenge for the Premier League title.
Much water has passed under the bridge since Hughes' Rovers recorded a 0-0 draw and sparked the ire of Mourinho because of a Chelsea goal being ruled out for offside, and Hughes has also seen subtle transformations in his 50-year-old opponent which suggest that he can emerge triumphant this season.
"I’ve always really enjoyed going up against Jose. You know it’s going to be a challenge because his Chelsea teams past and present are outstanding teams and have an array of talent which is going to test you," said Hughes.
“You know they’ll be set up correctly and if he gets in a winning position it’s very difficult to get back into games. Because his mind-set is to see games out quite easily.
"They are a little bit different to before. They are not exactly the same. But if that’s you’re natural inclination you will revert to type I suppose but there’s a little more freedom to their play than there has been in the past.
"Given the circumstances it looked like it was the end of his relationship with the owner -- once that was repaired and they could work together again I thought it was just a matter of time.
"Because he had such an emotional tie to the club and he always said he wanted to return to the Premier League so it made sense once that relationship was mended.”
And Hughes believes Mourinho is confounding all those who warned him of the old football adage of never go back.
"The old saying is never go back and more often than not it’s true and you can’t replicate what you’ve done before. But in some cases and I include myself in that I went back to United and it was the best thing I ever did,” Hughes said.
"Jose will feel the same that he has another opportunity to be successful at a top club in the Premier League which is close to his heart. They look strong and still have a quota of players who have been there and done it before – and done it with him.
"He has good lieutenants there who understand what he’s about and what he wants. They can be his policemen in the dressing room and make sure anyone who hasn’t worked with him before get the message of how he operates. So they’re in a good place I would suggest.
Hughes' struggle to ignite his own career at Stoke has been one of frustration and lack of goals in stark contrast to the way Chelsea have found their stride in recent weeks in the Premier League.
Mourinho's problems with Eden Hazard and Juan Mata have been well documented, but the Portuguese has harnessed the talents of the duo of late and Chelsea are reaping the rewards according to Hughes.
"Look at their performances of late and their scoring goals now. Hazard is scoring and Mata is back in the mix. Given the quality he has it’s a bit of a mystery why he wasn’t involved but he’s back in the fold and that gives them something different," said Hughes.
"So they are in good shape. You could argue it’s not the best time to face them, but every weekend in the Premier League there’s a challenge and at some time you’ll meet one of the top teams in Europe again.
"But you’ve always got hope. Listen, we are Stoke City and we’re playing at the Britannia. We always feel we can beat anybody so that’s our intent. They’re playing well and got a good result in midweek where a lot of players came to the fore and produced the goods for them.
"We know it’ll be difficult but the fact their slipped up away from home is a positive for us. But we’ll have to play well to win the game. They’ve conceded a number of set plays. Sometimes find teams renowned for attacking set pieces offensively are not as adept at defending them. That’s been highlighted by a number of clubs no reason why we shouldn’t do same."