Manchester United are preparing to ramp up their search for a new centre-back in case Eric Bailly leaves this summer.
There has been a feeling for some time from some influential figures at the club that United's ideal pairing at the back could be Harry Maguire and Bailly, if the Ivory Coast man could maintain fitness, and the club have even been attempting to negotiate new contract terms this year.
Yet Ole Gunnar Solskjaer continues to prefer Victor Lindelof and Inter Milan are reportedly keeping an eye on the situation as Bailly, who has just over a year remaining on his contract, is understood to be frustrated.
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Bailly has tested positive for Covid-19 and was not available for the weekend win over Brighton. United had been hoping they could avoid going into the market for a centre-back so that they could push funds into other positions, yet if talks on a new deal now stall and Bailly does leave then they will have to make a new defensive signing.
As previously discussed in this column, Sevilla's Jules Kounde and Villarreal’s Pau Torres are prime targets. They are looking towards Rafael Varane's situation at Real Madrid in case he becomes available and they have an eye on RB Leipzig's Ibrahima Konate - who is being heavily pursued by Liverpool. Sources say at least two other names are also being looked at too, and could emerge as serious targets in the coming weeks.
Jurgen Klopp is hoping the Liverpool board show full support this summer by signing him a new centre-back and the Reds are getting in touch with Leipzig as they are keen to progress discussions quickly, in case other clubs move ahead of them. Chelsea and United are also admirers of the player but at this stage no advances have been made, sources say.
Konate, 21, will cost around £34 million and will be allowed to leave if the right offer lands. United will have to decide quickly whether to join the pursuit or stick to the targets they had been more closely pursuing.
Konate poses a dilemma for Liverpool too because they are also becoming more and more impressed by Ozan Kabak, who has joined on loan for this season from Schalke and has the option of a permanent move at the end of the season for £18m. Kabak, also 21, has been impressive since overcoming a difficult start to his Liverpool career, and has a record of five clean sheets from eight appearances.
In an ideal world Klopp would love to see Liverpool sign both Konate and Kabak for a combined fee of over £50m, but it is very unlikely - so a decision will need to be made reasonably soon.
City targeting new deals for star trio
All the talk has been of Manchester City and the pursuit of Erling Haaland but their other priority is to tie down Kevin de Bruyne, Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling to new deals before the end of the season.
The club have been pushing for extended deals on improved terms to all three players and sources say that fresh deals with De Bruyne and Foden are now close to agreement - and there is hope Sterling will follow.
Pep Guardiola at the weekend spoke of how the club would struggle to sign a striker - labelling it “impossible”.
He backtracked slightly on that ahead of Tuesday night’s match against Borussia Dortmund, and the statement should be treated with caution anyway as City are searching for an elite new forward for next season.
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One thing City will attempt to make clear publicly in the coming weeks and months though is that they are not going to cave in to Borussia Dortmund’s huge demands for Haaland.
As part of the next stage of Guardiola’s rebuild, the club know it is vital their star players are kept happy and on long-term deals to protect their value.
Talks with De Bruyne and Foden have progressed more easily than with Sterling, who split with agent Aidy Ward recently.
Odegaard still wants to shine in Madrid
Martin Odegaard will be heartbroken if he does not get the chance to prove himself at Real Madrid.
That’s the verdict of sources close to the player, who insist he has always believed he has the traits to succeed at Santiago Bernabeu and is still hopeful he will be given an opportunity next season.
At this stage his future remains unclear and Arsenal do want to snap him up if Madrid are open to an exit, though other clubs are keeping an eye on the situation from afar.
Odegaard likes the vision of Arteta but it is understood he is not yet wholly convinced that the Arsenal squad is fully behind the plan, so will keep his options open until the end of the season.
One source even suggested Odegaard would love to end up living in the same city as countryman Haaland - so will also look to see how his talks with other clubs open up over the next two months.
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