A Euro 2016 winner and a veteran of 480 senior appearances, it was easy to see why West Ham splashed £8million to bring José Fonte to the capital in January.

The Hammers were crying out for the sort of leadership that Slaven Bilić‘s side had been inherently lacking in a tough first campaign at their new London Stadium home.

Bilic pointed to Fonte's experience and quality in playing out from the back as key traits to his pursuit of the former Southampton defender.

But, a year on from his arrival, the Portugal international is only now beginning to justify his transfer fee and state his claim as West Ham's most efficient and reliable centre-half.

Why has Fonte taken so long to settle?

Well, the one notable change this season in particular, is Bilić's decision to start with three centre-backs in a bid to shore up a leaky Hammers defence in the early part of the campaign.

Alongside the experienced heads of Winston Reid and James Collins, who have 423 Premier League appearances between them, Fonte has made huge strides in the past few weeks.

It's little surprise that his upturn in form has coincided with the Hammers keeping three clean sheets in their last four Premier League fixtures, as their mini resurgence continues.

A crucial victory over Swansea City at the London Stadium before the international break was indebted to a resilient defensive display, with the Hammers picking up their second home win of the campaign.

The 2017/18 season stats for Jose Fonte

Fonte played a crucial part in thwarting the Swans' main goal threat Wilfried Bony and in doing so endeared himself to the West Ham faithful, who had so far been in two minds since his arrival.

His calming influence and quality on the ball was just what was required on a tense afternoon in east London, with victory propelling the Hammers above the Swans in the early table.

It's also worth noting that Fonte did not feature in West Ham's 4-0 drubbing on the opening day at Old Trafford, nor the 3-0 thrashing at Newcastle two weeks later.

Although it would be difficult to suggest his influence in both games would have been a determining factor in securing a better result, the statistics suggest that the Portuguese defender is actually West Ham's best performing defender so far this season.

What makes Fonte so important now?

In his five Premier League appearances Fonte has won 73 per cent of his aerial duels and has an average passing accuracy of 78 per cent.

Not only is the 33-year-old's combative and physical style effective in keeping out the opposition, his ability to retain possession under pressure has been key to West Ham's upturn in form.

Take the 3-0 defeat at Newcastle back in August for example.

Bilić lamented his side's inability to keep hold of the ball and pointed to a lack of composure as a main cause for concern.

Fonte has proven that not only does he possess the quality to retain possession but he can also act as a calming influence on his fellow defensive colleagues.

The Hammers travel to Burnley on Saturday with another physically demanding challenge in store.

Sean Dyche has implemented a style that a lot of teams in the Premier League struggle to cope with, particularly at Turf Moor.

The Clarets have conceded just once at home in three league matches so far this season, with West Ham facing a tough task to build upon a morale-boosting run of form during September.

It's easy to overlook the significant role defenders play in stabilising a team after a tricky start, but Fonte's impact on West Ham has been majorly encouraging and Bilić will be hoping for more of the same as the season progresses.

Premier League