Chelsea and Manchester United will battle for the January signature of John Stones as the Red Devils make his £50 million capture their "top priority" in the coming weeks.
Journalist Mohamed Bouhafsi of France's RMC Sport (h/t James Gray of the Express) reported the Old Trafford giants will pursue the England international as Blues owner Roman Abramovich "redoubles his efforts" to bring the defender to Stamford Bridge after failing to lure him in the summer.
Mark Ogden of the Independent had said United coach Louis van Gaal is prepared to break the world-record fee for a defender to land Stones. However, Chelsea still desire the player whom ex-manager Jose Mourinho coveted.
Stones has informed the Toffees he is prepared to leave, submitting a transfer request in August, per Ogden. However, United "believe they will have the edge" when it comes to financing a deal over the Premier League champions.
The centre-back has become one of the hottest properties in world football in the past 12 months and has continued to mature in Everton's back four. The Times' Henry Winter recently paid homage to Stones as the defender's fan club grows:
Henry Winter @henrywinter
#efc 0 #cpfc 0 h-t. Scoreless but worth watching just for the sight of the wonderfully composed John Stones gliding upfield with the ball.2015-12-7 20:46:46
Glenn Hoddle also paid tribute to Stones in his column for the Mail on Sunday, saying the youngster is good enough to play for Barcelona if the treble winners seek his services and will be England's cornerstone for success in the future:
This young man is a shoe-in for England at the Euros, an absolute must, and I’ll be excited to watch his progress this year. If Barcelona wanted to sign a centre half, he could slot right in at that club.
Even if he cost £50million, he represents good value. Break that down over a six-year deal and you're getting a player I believe will be world class at a little over £8m a year.
That’s how highly I rate him. For years, England have struggled as teams have allowed our centre halves the ball, knowing distribution will be poor.
If Stones is in the side, they won’t be able to do that. And he can defend. When he starts reading better over the years, I believe he can become one of the best defenders in the world.
The 21-year-old has featured 18 times for his club this year in the Premier League, according to WhoScored.com, becoming an automatic starter for the Goodison Park outfit.
Chelsea could also turn their attention to Real Madrid's Isco after rumours suggested Los Blancos are prepared to sell the player.
According to Fox Sports journalist Raul Orvananos (h/t Metro's Tom Olver), the Blues are "very interested" in capturing the Spain international with a £35 million price tag on his services.
Here is a video displaying Isco's undeniable talents:
Chelsea appeared to recapture lost glory on Sunday as they soundly defeated Crystal Palace, 3-0, at Selhurst Park.
Interim coach Guus Hiddink has reorganised the squad, and the Blues are playing well again. But they need to add fresh faces in January.
A top-four finish is not beyond the club, and the addition of Stones would allow Chelsea to plan beyond the current campaign.
The Everton starlet is destined to become one of the world's great defensive talents, and Abramovich will want him before his value explodes further.