Mark Hughes feels Eden Hazard will have to wait until he has grey hair to be considered Chelsea’s greatest ever player.
Hazard’s sparkling early-season form, which has produced seven goals in nine games, has prompted debate about his place among the Blues’ best footballers.
Southampton boss Hughes, whose team host Maurizio Sarri’s side on Sunday, spent three years as a player at Stamford Bridge during the 1990s, lining up alongside Chelsea great Gianfranco Zola.
The Welshman is a big fan of the Blues’ current influential playmaker but believes it is premature to discuss his place in the overall history of the west London club.
“Debates of that type are probably better made when he’s a little bit older and got grey hair like me and then everybody can discuss the merits once everybody’s finished,” he said .
“He’s an outstanding player. You look at his stats this year, he’s had an impact in almost every game he’s played.
“The key is to stop their key players having opportunities. (It is) very difficult in the Premier League to stop a team having any chances – it’s very, very rare.
“We’ve just got to hope the chances they do create fall to someone else other than Eden Hazard and hopefully they’ll have an off day.”
Chelsea failed to mount a genuine title defence last season, finishing 30 points behind Manchester City in fifth place.
Results, however, have picked up since Antonio Conte was replaced by fellow Italian Sarri during the summer.
They have won five and drawn two in the Premier League this term and Hughes expects his former club to challenge Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and Liverpool for top spot.
“I think Chelsea will always be a (title) contender, you see the quality of their squad,” said Hughes.
“The strength in depth they’ve got is comparable to all the other top teams.
“They will go close. They’ve got a new manager and it seems when Chelsea change management that initial season usually seems to be the one that they are very strong in.
“I feel, given what I’ve already seen, they will have a strong season and go very close.”
Southampton should have a fully-fit squad to select from at St Mary’s.
Goalkeeper Alex McCarthy, defender Ryan Bertrand, winger Mohamed Elyounoussi and forward Shane Long have each returned to training following minor injury problems.