Chelsea have been dealt a blow in their long-term pursuit of Everton centre-back John Stones, as the Englishman would reportedly prefer to stay in the north of England were he to move away from Goodison Park.
The Blues pursued Stones last summer and had numerous bids rejected by Everton, the last of which was a massive £38 million offer, per Elliott Bretland and Charlie Skillen of MailOnline.
Chelsea look set to return for the 21-year-old in the summer, but Stones has now reportedly told various sources that he would prefer to stay in the north-west than move to London, per the Daily Mail's Ian Ladyman.
Chelsea will surely fight tooth and nail to beat off competition from City and United, though, as they desperately need added quality at the back.
Their hugely disappointing 2015-16 league campaign has been remarkable for the amount of goals Chelsea's previously impenetrable defence have conceded—34 in 23 matches.
Furthermore, it was recently revealed Blues stalwart John Terry will be departing the west London club at the end of the season, leaving a gaping hole in the centre-back department.
Though he has had his critics at times this season, Stones would surely be the perfect long-term replacement for Terry.
He has proved he has what it takes to become a world-class defender, per former England and Chelsea manager Glenn Hoddle:
Glenn Hoddle @GlennHoddle
Wish people would get off John Stones back can't they see he's going to be the Best Defender England have had since Bobby Moore he's Class 😎1/27/2016, 8:51:32 PM
With Gary Cahill as an experienced and capable partner and Kurt Zouma to provide competition and cover, Stones could improve massively at Stamford Bridge and be a part of the team for years to come.
If he really is more inclined to stay in the north of England, then Chelsea may have their work cut out, but they certainly have the resources to persuade him to move south and will likely not give up their pursuit easily.
Elsewhere, Alexandre Pato has described his loan move to Chelsea from Corinthians as a "dream."
The former AC Milan star has moved to west London on a six-month deal and is clearly eager to show his worth at the club, per Chelsea TV (via ESPN FC): "When I go to my social media I saw the fans for Chelsea—'welcome [to] Chelsea.' 'come to Chelsea.' This for me is special. I am here just to make my dream, just to play. [To] put the t-shirt [on] of Chelsea is the best."
The Brazilian is likely to serve mainly as a backup to No. 1 striker Diego Costa, but he will be useful for manager Guus Hiddink in the second half of the season when the fixtures come thick and fast.