José Fonte believes fellow Saints centre-back Dejan Lovren is currently one of the finest defenders in the Premier League.
Fonte, who has struck up an excellent partnership with the Croatian at the heart of Southampton’s backline, feels that Lovren’s arrival has prompted an upturn in his own form – a key factor behind Saints only conceding three goals in their first eight league games of the 2013/14 campaign.
“He is one of the best centre-backs I have played with,” the Portuguese declared. “At the moment, I think he is one of the best in the league.
“Dejan has been fantastic since he came in and has been a good help. I said already that in pre-season he made not only me, but Jos [Hooiveld] and Maya [Yoshida] work twice as hard.
“He is a great player, a great person as well and the fact that he works so hard and has so much quality makes me want to be a better player and be at the same level as him.
“I am sure the other two centre-backs who are not playing at the moment feel the same way and there is great competition for places in the team. One of the factors of Dejan’s arrival is that it has made me step up my game.”
After lavishing praise on Lovren, the No.6 revealed that he and the summer signing share an almost-telepathic understanding in the centre of Southampton’s rearguard.
Despite the highly promising relationship that the pair have developed so far this season, Fonte is refusing to get carried away and maintains work still needs to be done to ensure the defence remains as watertight as it has been recently – starting with the welcoming of Fulham on Saturday for an evening league clash.
When quizzed on his partnership with the 24-year-old, Fonte said: “I think 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 situation.
“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’ve 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 and 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.
“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. Saturday against Fulham, we will try and get another clean sheet and go from there.”