SAINTS boss Mark Hughes is sure Gianfranco Zola, his former Chelsea strike partner,  has played a part in Eden Hazard’s outstanding form this season.

Hughes and Zola formed a formidable combination at Stamford Bridge in the 1990s.

Zola has returned to the club for whom he scored 80 goals in seven seasons as assistant coach to Maurizio Sarri.

And Hughes, who scored 25 goals in 95 appearances for Chelsea before joining Saints in 1998, reckons he has already had a big impact.

He said: “Franco 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.

“I’d imagine he would be doing that as a coach. I would be very surprised if he wasn’t practising free-kicks because he used to spend what seemed like hours after the training session practising them.

“There’s a reason these guys are good at it because it’s that repetition of work that allows them to repeat it at a good level. Franco always used to do that as a player.

“I would be very surprised if he wasn’t doing that as a coach with the likes of [Eden] Hazard and others, I’m sure.”

Zola returned to Chelsea following Sarri’s appointment in July.

“He’s back where he belongs,” continued Hughes. “His connection with Chelsea is there as a player and he’s been a manager for quite some time.

“He was one of those players who was always going to find himself in a coaching position and is at a club he has great affection for.

“I saw him briefly in pre-season without getting the chance to have a conversation. It will be good to catch up with him, he’s a great guy.

“We had some good times playing alongside each other and there are plenty of occasions to reminisce about.

“Now he’s in a position to affect the modern-day Chelsea after being in a team that was growing without being at the level they are now.”