Manchester City are understood to have moved into the lead in their hunt to sign Everton and England centre-back John Stones, with Chelsea easing their interest in the Toffees ace.
The Mirror's Andy Dunn reported Chelsea have cooled their pursuit following Jose Mourinho's departure from Stamford Bridge, and it's seemingly unlikely Real Madrid or Barcelona could lure the defender to Spain.
Stones received criticism during Everton's 3-1 League Cup semi-final second-leg defeat to Manchester City last Wednesday, evidence he may not be worth the £50 million valuation reportedly placed upon his head.
Manchester City are yet to lose a match this season when Vincent Kompany is in the team, but the club's captain has featured in just 12 matches across all competitions.
The big-spending Citizens have added Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala to their ranks in the past 18 months—reportedly costing a combined £70 million—but neither players have managed to fill Kompany's boots during his absences.
Former England manager Glenn Hoddle recently told the Fletch and Sav show Stones can be "magnificent," likening his impact on England's defence to that of former great and 1966 World Cup winner Bobby Moore:
Ex-Barnsley starlet Stones could be seen as a realistic target after Sky Sports reported he handed in a transfer request last August amid serious interest from Chelsea.
However, Toffees manager Roberto Martinez later told Sky Sports his young asset "didn't mean" to submit the request, even going on to hail the 21-year-old's professional manner:
He's such a professional. I had other situations where I had players who couldn't cope and couldn't play. I had windows where I had to leave players out completely and when the window closed get him back in the team and what that represents – winning his team-mates over and the fans over.
With John, it's very easy because he's a pristine professional. Obviously he's been put under massive, massive pressure. The transfer request was something he didn't mean to do.
The landscape at Goodison Park appears to have changed, however, and Dunn stated in his report that Stones "has come under fire from sections of the Everton support," who may be more willing to cash in.
The Toffees fought tooth and nail to keep hold of their player last summer, but Daniel Storey of Football 365 hinted the club may have been better off letting the player leave for a big sum:
The idea that John Stones was better staying at Everton to further his education looks iffy at best.— Daniel Storey (@danielstorey85) January 27, 2016
Despite his disappointing display against the Citizens in the Capital One Cup semi-final, it's understood Manchester City are still keen on landing Stones.
The Premier League title contenders have spent heavily on reshaping their central defence in each of the last two summer transfer windows, and City's chase for Stones could see them do so again in 2016.