Frank Lampard has praised Kurt Zouma after his match-winning display for Chelsea against Leeds United on Saturday.
The 26-year-old earned his side the lead over Marcelo Bielsa's with a powerful second-half header to send Chelsea temporarily top of the Premier League table.
Tottenham would reclaim top spot on Sunday, but Zouma's displays have helped Lampard's side keep more clean sheets than any other this season. Zouma also has four league goals already and Lampard believes that his partner Thiago Silva has been part of his improvement.
“He has been playing well this season," Lampard told reporters of Zouma. "The eye-catching thing is the number of goals he is scoring from set-pieces and for me, that is a result of more confidence and more belief in himself.
"He has always had the size and strength, and now you see him in all parts of the pitch really - aerially he is a real threat and he is doing his job. I think a lot of the individual improvement or development, he had injuries and because of how his career went, he has been out on loan a couple of times.
"He trains every day, he doesn’t miss a day, he wants to do extras, he wants to work, he wants to do better, and those things to me are just absolutely fundamental to how players improve. And at the minute the level he is playing at week in week out is brilliant and long may it continue - he deserves it.
"The way we are playing as a unit at the moment defensively, as a team, that obviously helps him raise his standards, and obviously with Thiago next to him, that is a great standard-bearer for the rest of the season.
"As a unit, we look stronger and Kurt has been a big part of that. A lot of defending is about concentration. He has got so many attributes that are great for a centre-back.
"I knew that when I came here that a guy like Kurt would be a big deal for me and he is showing that in terms of how he is playing. I am delighted with him.”
Chelsea's defensive improvement has been dramatic after they conceded 54 league goals last season, the worst total since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003.
Not only were the Blues guilty of conceding goals on set-pieces, they were vulnerable on the counter-attack last season. Lampard has seen his side progress rapidly in both areas and spoke about their newfound ability to hold onto a lead.
“We have got better at that - and the element of today’s game that felt a bit like last year was it was at 2-1 and we were missing chances and you feel nervous," he added. "I think now that hopefully, the players believe that we can see games out.Getty Images
"There are moments where we have to go longer, get up the pitch and keep them away from our goal. We have to be secure in possession and the players are getting better at that. It is massively important.
"Hopefully that belief continues to grow as it is a tough league and having that kind of experience and nature about us helps. It is through the experienced players that we have brought in. Of course, it is Thiago first and foremost.
"But I think [Edouard] Mendy will help a lot with that as well in terms of his distribution with seeing out games. It has helped us to improve.”
The Premier League table is beginning to take a more familiar look with the "big six" teams, except Arsenal , occupying the top spots in the table.
Indeed, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp named Chelsea as the favourites but Lampard is reluctant to say it will be the usual suspects competing for the title with the likes of Leicester City amongst the high-flying teams.
“It’s hard to be too expectant at this relatively early stage when we are a third of the way through," Lampard added. "But you would expect that teams that have been there in recent years will be there like Liverpool and Man City .
"I think they are everybody’s favourites of this season and I think I expect them to be there and they are there. There are teams still that have made a fantastic start and I think we should not rule out, teams that are in and around it.
"The table is starting to take a bit of shape, but there is still a long way to go. I’m not too concerned about anyone else, I am more concerned about ourselves, and about the fact that after we played Southampton here at home, there were a lot of questions and my job is to solve these questions or find a solution via the players.
"The players are answering them at the moment, so we need to just think about the next game and not think about the big picture, and the league will pan itself out.”