With only three clean sheets and three wins in the first 18 games of the season, Hamburger SV were struggling at the end of January, but one man is almost single-handedly turning that around.

The northern Germany side, who had the league's second-worst defensive record of 35 goals conceded, were justifiably second from the bottom in the Bundesliga. Suffice to say, that position would equate to the end of their unbroken permanence in Germany's top flight, were it to endure until the end of the season.

Watch: Take a look at who features alongside Papadopoulos in the top five fantasy signings from the winter:

Those – for the want of a better word – ugly statistics were not lost on head coach Markus Gisdol, however, and he made it one of his priorities to strengthen his side's defence in the winter transfer window. Perhaps even he did not quite expect to hit the jackpot the way he has, though, by signing Kyriakos Papadopoulos.

After a frustrating first half of the season on a personal level, where he largely played second fiddle in a RB Leipzig defence proving itself to be the exact opposite of Hamburg's – solid, mean and robust – the Greek defender leapt at the opportunity to kick start his career in the north.

It has been a long time, after all, since the now 24-year-old had been attracting attention from many of Europe's top clubs, before a string of injuries disrupted his progress as an FC Schalke 04 stalwart. He had crammed an entire season's worth of games – 34 - into the past four Bundesliga campaigns combined; consistency was absent.

What may therefore have represented a gamble on the part of Hamburg, given Papadopoulos' injury history and recent lack of action, has certainly paid off with the giant stopper flexing his muscles at both ends of the field for the Red Shorts.

He was cleared for take-off with a headed goal against Bayer 04 Leverkusen – his parent club – on Matchday 19 and he continued his flying start on Matchday 20 with another header against a former club, a dagger to Leipzig's heart which had revenge written all over it. Hamburg won both of those games, without conceding either.

There is a new robustness to Gisdol's defence and it is no coincidence that Papadopoulos – the first player to score back-to-back goals against former clubs – has been at the heart of it. HSV also have a DFB Cup quarter-final to look forward to, thanks to another clean sheet courtesy of 'Papa', who lifted that particular trophy with Schalke in 2011.

Call it making up for lost time or merely proving a point, the Katerini-born defender has oozed energy, determination and commitment ever since he pulled on a Hamburg shirt for the first time. His demeanour is proving infectious too, with Matthias Ostrzolek's performances also on the rise, as are Hamburg's as a whole.

Watch: Papadopoulos scoring as Hamburg inflict a first home Bundesliga defeat on Leipzig:

Four games into his loan spell, Papadopoulos has helped lift Hamburg out of the bottom three for the first time since Matchday 2. There's a swagger in their step; the doom and gloom has been lifted. It is a pity that Hamburg do not face Schalke until Matchday 33, with Papa showing such a penchant for scoring against his former clubs, but that game can wait.

Between now and then, HSV will look to put some more daylight between themselves and the relegation zone, thanks to the man who has brought a chink of sunlight to the Hanseatic city sky: Kyriakos Papadopoulos.

Ben Gladwell

Papa was joined by two Hamburg teammates in the Matchday 20 Team of the Week. Take a look at who else joined the HSV trio.