Manchester United and Chelsea are already tangling for the signature of Fiorentina’s Juan Cuadrado, and AS Roma defender Mehdi Benatia could well be the next player to come between the Premier League rivals.
According to the Express, Chelsea could end up hijacking United’s reported £36 million approach for Cuadrado, much like they did with Tottenham Hotspur’s interest in former Shakhtar Donetsk attacker Willian last season.
The Morocco international, until now reported by The Independent to be a primary target of Chelsea, has recently fallen out with Roma over his contract and could be available for £30 million pounds this summer.
Back in May, he took to La Gazzetta dello Sport to reveal that Roma had promised a restructured deal and even admitted that his agent had advised him “not to sign” for the Giallorossi.
As relayed by Goal, Benatia had been told he could renegotiate his pact in the event that Roma qualified for the Champions League.
“My mistake is that I have been too correct and too sincere toward the club,” he said, adding, “I deserve more respect.”
No doubt both Chelsea and United could offer him the payday he seeks, although, with Blues manager Jose Mourinho perhaps content to stand pat with Branislav Ivanovic, Kurt Zouma, Nathan Ake and even Andreas Christensen in support of John Terry and Gary Cahill, there could be an opportunity for United to pounce.
They’d do well to take it.
Not only would a Benatia move to Stamford Bridge help strengthen a direct rival, it would also see the Red Devils miss out on yet another defensive target after being spurned in their pursuit of Mats Hummels.
And in Benatia, they’d be getting the type of defender they quite clearly need.
A tough-tackling centre-back with good instincts and an eye for a pass, the 27-year-old is also strong in the air and contributed five goals for Roma in his first season at the club, following a move from Udinese.
Born in France and previously eligible to represent both Morocco and Algeria, he was trained at the prestigious Clairefontaine academy and represented France at Under-18 level before making his senior debut for the Atlas Lions in 2008.
Crucially, he operated as part of a back three at Udinese under former manager Francesco Guidolin, and given new United manager Louis van Gaal’s preference for the system, he’d make a natural fit.
But under no circumstances can United afford to lose both Benatia and Cuadrado to Chelsea. And while acquiring both would be ideal, if they had to pick one, they could do worse than strengthening at the back.