According to the Daily Express, Chelsea are in talks with Roma regarding the potential purchase of French-born centre-half Mehdi Benatia, who could be lured away from the Eternal City for £30m.
The Blues, who drifted from 15/8 co-favouritism with champions Manchester City for the 2014/15 Premier League to 19/10 overnight, are said to have denied talks were occurring, through their coach Jose Mourinho, although reports from Italy insist otherwise.
Benatia came through the same French youth ranks as Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri, but chose to represent Morocco – his father’s homeland – ahead of Les Bleus and Algeria, with whom he qualifies through his maternal line.
The 27-year-old only arrived at the Stadio Olimpico last July, having taken in the sights at Udinese, Clermont and Marseille earlier in his career, but an alleged reneging by Roma on a promise to either give Benatia a pay bump or sell him this summer seems to have caused ructions.
The link with Chelsea is puzzling, as established centre-half pairing Gary Cahill and captain John Terry were thought untouchable, while Mourinho has Branislav Ivanovic and £11m January signing Kurt Zouma for cover.
Manchester United aren’t nearly as well stocked in the centre-half ranks, with Premier League greenhorns Michael Keane and Tyler Blackett both in line to start the 20-time English champions’ first fixture of the new campaign at home to Swansea, which the Red Devils are 4/11 to win.
Louis van Gaal was thought to be on the trail of Borussia Dortmund’s World Cup-winning star Mats Hummels, but with that deal looking dead in the water, United have been repeatedly credited with a strong interest in Benatia.
Of the 60 teams that made up the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A last term, only Italian champions Juventus conceded fewer goals than Roma.
Benatia started 32 of the Giallorossi’s 38 Serie A games in 2013/14, was present from the off during all-but two of their 18 clean sheets, and scored five times.
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