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Claus hails new Saints duo
Fonte and Lovren, an £8.5m summer signing from Lyon, appear to have struck up a magnificent understanding at the heart of the team’s back line this season.
They have helped Saints achieve four clean sheets in their opening six Premier League matches.
A year on from having the worst defence in the top flight, Saints currently possess the best goals against record in the elite league.
It was more than a decade ago that Svensson and Lundekvam forged their wonderful partnership, which is still remembered so fondly at St Mary’s.
In the 49 Premier League games they started alongside each other, Saints conceded just 50 goals.
Ever since injury broke that pairing up in early 2004, the club have been searching for a combination that can be as effective.
And Lundekvam believes they might finally be close to finding it.
Asked how long it has been since he was this confident in a centre-back partnership at Saints, he said: “Since me and Michael played together.
“When me and Michael were together, with Bridgey [Wayne Bridge] and Doddsy [Jason Dodd], we were very strong as a unit and we understood each other so well.
“Me and Michael complemented each other very well and it looks like Dejan and José are doing that now, too.
“You look at the time they have been working together and it is not very long, as Lovren has only been there a few months, so they will become even stronger together.
“To be so solid together after so few months tells me that they are good players.
“They understand the game so well, and I think Lovren has a lot to do with that, with his experience. He’s an absolute quality centre half.”
The 40-year-old added: “I’m not saying others weren’t good enough, because they were, but the partnership between him and José Fonte is looking very, very good.
“The understanding between them appears to be excellent.
“José Fonte has always been a very good player, but he has flourished now with that partnership.”
Lundekvam, who now works as a Premier League analyst on Norwegian television, knows plenty about what makes a good centre-back pairing, having struck up some memorable combinations in his 12 years with Saints.
It was with Svensson, though, that he enjoyed the greatest success. The two were first thrown together at the start of the 2002/03 season, and they developed an almost instant understanding.
The pair played an integral role in the club reaching the 2003 FA Cup final and also recording their best ever Premier League finish, of eighth, in the same campaign.
“You are partners and you learn how to trust each other and you learn how to almost read each other’s mind,” said Lundekvam of what makes a good combination.
“You have strong sides and weak sides in your game, and the best pairings compensate for each other on those.
“You only learn that on the training ground, where you get to know each other.
“It comes down to clever football brains. In my days, with Dean Richards, Ken Monkou, Michael Svensson, and a few others, it’s all about understanding what you’re good at and using your strengths together with your partner to fulfil each other.”
It is not just Lovren and Fonte, though. Lundekvam also points to Artur Boruc’s performances in goal, as well as the displays of full-backs Luke Shaw and Nathaniel Clyne, and the two midfielders in front of them, for the improvement in Saints’ defence this term.
“You have got two full-backs who are incredibly quick, which helps,” he said. “When you have got speed in your back four you can play a whole different way.
“It looks like they have been working on it as well. They’ve taken huge steps and learnt from last season when they weren’t too solid.
“Pochettino looks like he’s emphasised making the team hard to beat, which is very clear to see. It looks very good.
“It’s not only the back four, of course. Having a good keeper helps, and the whole unit is looking good with the two guys – Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama – sitting in front. All of those are important things.”
Having analysed their early performances this season, Lundekvam believes that the Saints manager, Mauricio Pochettino, is crafting an excellent and well-balanced team at St Mary’s.
“You need a strong backbone in your team to succeed in the Premier League,” said the former Norwegian international.
“If you have a central line that you know is going to perform every week then you can support a bit of flair around it.
“I’ve never seen a Southampton squad as strong as they are now. The other thing is, with Pochettino, they play very attractive football.
“I think the defensive solidness has maybe hampered a little bit offensively. We don’t commit as much as we did last season by the looks of it.
“But I think that is a good thing, because you need to be hard to beat.
“The identity of the team, and the style they play, I love it. It’s very modern, and I love that 4-2-3-1 formation.”
Lundekvam added: “I think a top-ten finish will be at least what the Pochettino regime will expect. To break into the top six will be very hard, but I think they will grow stronger.
“The plans for the club are very exciting. We are on our way I feel, and doing a lot of positive things. A top-ten finish I think is very realistic this year.”
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