Following the announcement that Pep Guardiola will take over as Manchester City boss in the summer, the Spaniard will reportedly spark a huge battle with Chelsea—along with Barcelona and Real Madrid—for Blues targets Paul Pogba and John Stones.
That's according to Ian Ladyman and Neil Ashton of the Daily Mail, who noted Guardiola will be backed to spend big on Juventus midfielder Pogba and Everton defender Stones—at a reported £80 million and £50 million, respectively. The two players have long been reported as top names on Chelsea's wishlist.
His impending arrival at the Etihad Stadium was by far the biggest news on transfer deadline day, as BBC Sport's Richard Conway noted:
Richard Conway @richard_conway
Biggest transfer of the day - and it's not a player - Guardiola heading to @MCFC next season.2016-2-1 13:12:19
Upon taking over from Manuel Pellegrini at the end of the season, Guardiola will undoubtedly want to put his own stamp on the Sky Blues' side. Bleacher Report's own Sam Tighe and Dean Jones believes Yaya Toure could be one of the most high-profile casualties of his arrival:
Should the Ivorian depart, there will be a huge hole to fill in City's midfield, and Pogba would make a superb long-term replacement.
Chelsea would also benefit supremely from his signature as they have few quality options in central midfield beyond Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas—both of whom have been poor for much of the current campaign.
Fabregas has shown signs of life in recent weeks, but Matic is continuing to struggle despite Chelsea's slight upturn in form under Guus Hiddink. Therefore, a world-class signing such as Pogba would provide a huge injection of quality and an excellent boost to their title chances next season.
After a difficult start both personally and for the team as a whole—not too dissimilar to Chelsea's, though Juve arrested their slide much earlier and are now firmly back in the title race—the Frenchman has been lighting up Serie A once again this season and has six goals and nine assists to his name in all competitions.
Most recently the 22-year-old produced a masterclass against Chievo, in which he scored and almost added to his tally with an exceptional piece of skill, per BT Sport:
BT Sport Football @btsportfootball
.@paulpogba 🔥 https://t.co/oijQ82ncZl2016-2-1 08:00:04
BT Sport Football @btsportfootball
.@paulpogba slices through @ACChievoVerona's defence and finishes in style to give @juventusfcen a 4-0 lead. #BTEFS https://t.co/CH95LC5VAM2016-1-31 13:56:24
As for Stones, Chelsea will undoubtedly be in the hunt for a long-term replacement for departing stalwart John Terry this summer, and after pursuing him doggedly last year, it seems likely they'll rekindle their interest again.
City will also need to improve defensively—their total of 23 goals conceded in as many games is worse than all of their title rivals except Leicester City, while Martin Demichelis is now 35 and Eliaquim Mangala has frequently been a liability.
The youngster is far from the finished article, but the adventurous, ball-playing centre-back has a bright future ahead of him and could thrive at either Stamford Bridge or the Etihad.
Though the confirmation of his appointment at City does ensure Guardiola can begin identifying targets for his new employers, it's important to take rumours linking the club with other players with a pinch of salt until he arrives in the hot seat, as Football365 noted:
Isn't it bizarre that Pep took over yesterday and immediately told the English media his transfer targets? https://t.co/FKXgyTneqm2016-2-2 08:56:55
Equally, the Blues will first and foremost be pursuing a new manager in the summer—if they haven't found one by then—and he will presumably have his own targets in mind.
Speculation surrounding Pogba and Stones isn't likely to cease, though, and both could well be on the move ahead of next season.