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Why Eden Hazard is the biggest threat to Jose Mourinhos Manchester United reign

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I sent him a message to say I was sorry he had gone and that I was sorry. Wed enjoyed all that success together, but this time we hadnt. I felt a little bit guilty because Id been player of the year. Id been one of the most decisive players, and then I performed less.

Apologetic though he may have been, Eden Hazard was as relieved as any member of Chelseas title-winning squad that Jose Mourinho had been sacked during his second stint at Stamford Bridge.

For all the problems that Mourinho found and indeed created for himself during the 2015-16 campaign, no issue has had such a prolonged effect on Mourinhos career as the disintegration of his relationship with Hazard.

The Belgian reluctantly adapted to Mourinhos philosophy the previous season and was crowned PFA Player of the Year as Chelsea won their first title in five years. Within six months Mourinho was gone, sacked from Chelsea for a second time with the Blues hovering above the relegation zone.

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Quite how Mourinho allowed a title-winning team to drop off so quickly still haunts him and that sacking opened wounds that he is still attempting to heal. For the first time in his career Mourinho had genuinely failed.

Mourinhos relationship with Hazard disintegrated rapidly (Picture: Getty)

Eden Hazard dribbles per 90 minutes in the Premier League

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Mourinho had once been the modern manager able to deal with the egos of the dressing room. Hed convinced the likes of Samuel Etoo to play out of position for the greater good of the team during his time at Inter Milan but Hazard got what he wanted when Mourinho was sacked. The dressing room had beaten the manager and Mourinhos issues at Old Trafford indicate he is yet to come to terms with modern landscape of power.

The sacking shattered an image of Mourinho that he had built up for nearly 15 years and the Special One returns to Stamford Bridge on Saturday fighting for his Manchester United job.

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The Red Devils are entering a crucial and difficult period where theyll face the likes of Juventus and Manchester City, but stopping Hazard could prove their toughest test over the next six weeks.

A late comeback against Newcastle showed the United squad – at the very least – are still fighting for Mourinho but his ability to counter Hazard at Stamford Bridge will be a litmus test of his tactics. Mourinho was so often a big game specialist before his move to Old Trafford but new ideas have been thin on the ground at the Theatre of Dreams.

Herrera man-marked Hazard out of the game (Picture: Getty)

One of Mourinhos biggest victories at the club was the 2-0 win against Chelsea in the 2016-17 campaign. The Blues were en route to the Premier League title under Antonio Conte, something Mourinho found difficult to swallow given the pursuit was being led by so many players that had downed tools under him the previous season, primarily Hazard.

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Hazard was reinvigorated under the Italian but he was nullified that day as Ander Herrera man-marked him out of the game. The Spaniard was instructed to stay as close as possible to Hazard from the first minute with Mourinho convinced that Herreras sheer presence alone would be enough to put him off his natural game.The move caught Chelsea – and Hazard – cold.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was dropped to the bench in favour of the legs of Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard up front, while United played in an unorthodox 3-5-2 system to match Chelseas rampaging wing-backs.

Rashford was picked ahead of Ibrahimovic in a 3-5-2 system (Picture: Getty)

It was the type of tactical masterclass that wed come to expect from Mourinho in the earlier parts of his career but theyve been increasingly infrequent during his second stint in England.

How Mourinho could do with producing another masterclass on Hazard this Saturday. The Belgians in the form of his life at Stamford Bridge and already has more goals this season [eight] then he managed throughout the entirety of the 15/16 campaign [six].

Metro.co.uk understands Mourinho is contemplating playing a back three at Stamford Bridge and is unlikely to man-mark Hazard, despite his blistering start to the season. Instead the Red Devils will look to stop the supply line to Hazard by suffocating the space that Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic operate in in midfield.

Mourinho needs a plan to combat Hazard (Picture: Getty)

United chiefs maintain Mourinhos future is not in immediate danger but his selling point has long been his big game prowess. What value is Mourinho if he can no longer offer that?

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Thats why Saturday matters to Mourinho. Its a chance for him to show hes still relevant among Europes elite managers, that he is not yesterdays man.

Mourinhos by and large failed to settle on a system at Old Trafford and wins against the top six have been more to do with individual inspiration than tactical innovation.

Its no exaggeration to suggest Mourinho could be sacked after a poor result this weekend. A failure to combat Hazard could see table-topping Chelsea run amok over United like they did in a 4-0 thrashing during Mourinhos first season at the Theatre of Dreams.

The difference now is that Mourinho is running out of credit. Like at Chelsea in 2015, its Hazard that poses the biggest threat to Mourinho, even if hes now playing for the other team.

MORE: Jack Wilshere urges Unai Emery to keep Aaron Ramsey at Arsenal

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