CESAR AZPILICUETA knows exactly how the Manchester United players are feeling.
Which is why Chelsea's captain and his team-mates will be taking the Red Devils just as seriously as ever, if not more so, this afternoon.
Azpilicueta has seen, done and won it all since arriving at Stamford Bridge in 2012.
Bouncing back from a playing legend being sacked as manager? Completed it, mate. Twice.
Most recently when the Blues fired record 211-goal scorer Frank Lampard in January and won the Champions League four months later.
So Azpilicueta has not only felt the pain the United stars are suffering in the wake of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's departure.
He has also experienced how quickly things can change for the better.
The defender, 32, said: "In both cases, they are playing legends and they feel the club a lot and you want the best for your club.
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“Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. They were not good times. We were in a bad position.
"In January we were far from winning the league but we were in the last 16 of the Champions League.
“The new manager arrived with his staff and we tried to get results as we knew we didn't have a lot of room for mistakes.
"But we knew that the season wasn't over.
"Something Chelsea has shown over the years is we win trophies and, even when in a bad moment, we can come back really quick."
Thomas Tuchel's tactical overhaul was clearly key to a remarkable turnaround but before that could take effect, Azpilicueta had to rally the troops.
The Spaniard said: "We spoke among ourselves. We have great senior players like Jorginho and Thiago with great experience, Toni Rudiger . . .
"They are great personalities, leaders. So are the young lads, in their own way, coming through the academy.
"We knew that we could turn the season around and that's what we did.
"With the staff and manager, we created a very strong group and that was key for me.
"To have a strong group when things are not going well, to be together, to push each other, is very important."
Right now, things are going very well for the Londoners.
Chelsea have built on their European triumph in Porto where they beat Manchester City 1-0, carrying momentum into the new season.
It is different from the last time the Blues were crowned European champions in 2012.
Azpilicueta was signed from Marseille that summer, but by late November Champions League-winning head coach Roberto Di Matteo — another former legend on the pitch — had been sacked.
The final straw was a defeat by Juventus that all but confirmed a group-stage exit.
In contrast, Tuesday's 4-0 thrashing of the same opponents underlined their continuing improvement under Tuchel.
Azpilicueta said: "I came to Chelsea, to the European champions, and we were out of the Champions League.
"It was quite hard, a bad experience. But we went into the Europa League and we won it. We turned it around and we won my first trophy.
"This time, I had experience and I didn't want to see this happening again. Together, we built a great group. Every player is pushing.
“We have an amazing squad. We have to replicate, week in, week out, the performance levels we have shown through the last couple of months."
Azpilicueta is one of five Chelsea players shortlisted for the Ballon d'Or and believes goalkeeper Edouard Mendy deserved to make it six.
He has won every domestic and European club honour with the Blues — but the second of his Premier League titles was back in 2017.
Azpilicueta said: "It is of course too long ago. The Premier League is the best and toughest in the world.
“It's true that we have finished far from where we wanted to finish in the last couple of years. Now it's up to us to face the challenge and be ready for it."
Today's challenge is to heap more Premier League misery on United.
The visitors won their first game since Solskjaer's sacking under interim boss Michael Carrick on Tuesday night when they beat Villarreal.
Their ex-midfielder Carrick will remain in charge for today's game ahead of the arrival of Ralf Rangnick as new interim manager.
Azpilicueta said: "It's always difficult to play against United.
"Even though they are not in the best position in the table, we have to be fully prepared because it's going to be a tough game.
"Whether it's an interim manager, head coach or whatever you want to call it, everybody wants to turn things around because when you don't win games, you don't like to be in this kind of situation.
"Players have their own pride. You have to show that you don't want to be on the losing side.
“You want to prove yourself. You want to show you still have the level.
"Their situation is what it is — they've changed the manager. But it's more about focusing on ourselves.
"Of course we respect them. They have great individuals and great quality in the squad.
"But we have confidence. We have shown this through the last couple of weeks."
- Signathon hosted a live virtual event for fans with Cesar Azpilicueta. He also signed limited edition merchandise that is available to buy now at www.signathon.live
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