Saints currently own the best defensive record in the Premier League – and José Fonte wants to make sure they still possess it at the end of the season.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side have kept five clean sheets in their opening eight matches, and have conceded just three goals, which is two less than anyone else in the top flight.

Fonte says the entire team is proud of holding the status of being the division’s meanest defence and insists they have no intention of relinquishing it.

“We know how hard it is going to be, but we are ready for it,” said the centre half.

“We are proud to have the best defence in the league and will try to keep it until the end of the season, make no mistake.

“We will try and keep clean sheets and be hard to beat. That is all we can do – try as hard as we can.

“We know there are great strikers and great teams that will score goals against us, but we will be giving our best to keep this record and keep the best defence in the league.”

Saints’ defensive record this term is in stark contrast to the one they had at this stage last season, when they had already conceded 24 goals.

“Last year we were under a lot of criticism, fair criticism most of the time, as we conceded a lot of goals, but the fact is we worked hard, improved and the results are there to see,” said Fonte.

The 29-year-old added: “It has been very pleasing to be in this kind of form after hearing the critics last year and to now hear the people saying good stuff about us, but we know it is only eight games and only the start of the season.

“We know how hard this league is and we know the hard task we have ahead. “We will be trying to keep this momentum and this form going, but we know it will be hard and we have to go game by game. “Against Fulham we will try and get another clean sheet and go from there.”

Fonte says there are a number of different factors in the club’s improvement defensively.

“The manager makes us work extremely hard during the week, we are fit and I feel fit like I have never felt before,” he said.

“Tactically he is very good. He tries to position and anticipate everything and to give us every information that we need to be in good shape. “Dejan (Lovren) has been fantastic since he came in and been a good help. The two centre mids have also given us great protection in front of the back four. “The strikers pressing so high up the pitch and getting the ball so high is very good and gives us a lot of breathing space. These facts have been the major factor in us conceding so few goals.”

Fonte says he rates Lovren, an £8.5m summer signing from Lyon and his partner at the heart of Saints’ defence, as “one of the best centre backs in the league”.

Asked what it is that makes their partnership work so well, Fonte said: “It is instinct. The way we think. We think a little bit the same way.

“I know what he is going to do most of the time and he knows what I am going to do in certain situations. “He is a very hard-working player. He understands the centre back’s job.

“We have to protect one another and we have been doing that well.

“He has been good and I just hope we can improve as we haven’t achieved anything. We had a few clean sheets, but there is a long way to go and things can change.

“We need to keep working as hard as possible, improve, as in a few games we have made a few mistakes that we weren’t happy with and we identified that.

“We want to improve and be better players and a better pairing.”

Morgan Schneiderlin poster in today's Daily Echo