José Fonte has praised the influence of summer signing Dejan Lovren after an outstanding start to the season for the Saints defence.
Four games into the Premier League campaign, the team has conceded just two goals, which is in stark contrast to how they began the last campaign, when they had leaked 14 by the same stage.
Lovren, an £8.5m capture from Lyon, appears to have already formed an impressive partnership with Fonte in the heart of defence and, with notable strength in the full-back positions and keeper Artur Boruc again proving solid, Saints have what looks to be a very stable base to their team.
“We’re very pleased, obviously. It was an issue last year,” acknowledged Fonte.
“We’ve got two clean sheets this season, which is very good for us, and it gives us confidence and more belief to keep working hard, as we’ve been doing.
“It’s positive, so we want to keep going with the clean sheets.”
Fonte, right, believes the arrival of Croatian international Lovren has been a major factor in the success of the defence so far this season.
“He’s a great player first of all, and when you have a great player next to you it’s easier to play,” said the Portuguese centre-half, whose partnership with Lovren should be given its sternest test of the season so far when Saints visit league leaders Liverpool on Saturday.
“I feel confident with him, we understand each other well. It’s always going to get better, because we’re still getting to know each other, but from the first moment I had a good understanding with him.
“I know more or less what he’s going to do in each situation, and he knows what I’m going to do, so at the moment we’re in a very good place and I hope this partnership keeps developing and improving.”
For Fonte, the start to the season has been particularly satisfying.
The 29-year-old had been an ever present in the league last term up to the point when he suffered a nasty knee injury in an FA Cup clash with Chelsea in early January.
That sidelined him for seven weeks and, by the time he returned to fitness, Nigel Adkins had been sacked and Mauricio Pochettino had been appointed as the club’s new manager.
Fonte would start just five more games before the season finished, but he has now emerged as Pochettino’s favoured choice to partner Lovren.
“I’m pleased, because I believe in myself,” he said. “I got injured against Chelsea when I was the only player who played every single game and was out of the team for eight games.
“When you come back the players have been doing well, we won a few games against Man City and good teams, and it’s normal the manager keeps playing with the same team.
“I waited for my chance, I played the last few games of the season, I did well, I had a great pre-season and I worked very hard, and the manager put his trust in me and I just want to pay it off, play well for the manager and the team.”