Chelsea have identified Middlesbrough centre-back Ben Gibson as the man to replace captain John Terry, but they will have to part with £30 million in the summer to complete the deal, according to John Cross for the Mirror.
Terry, whose contract expires this summer, is expected to move to China, per Cross, leaving Blues manager Antonio Conte in need of a long-term replacement. Acquiring Gibson, 23, is reportedly the club's highest priority.
Gibson's first season as a Premier League player has been a huge success. The defender is one of only seven outfield players to have featured in every minute of league action this season, playing 1,800 minutes, according to WhoScored.com.
His permanence in the back line for Middlesbrough has helped Aitor Karanka's team record the joint-fourth-best defensive record in the division. Only Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, and Manchester United have conceded fewer than the 22 Boro have allowed in 2016-17.
The feat, and Gibson's part in it, has not gone unnoticed. Former Middlesbrough player Gary Pallister was full of praise for the youngster in November, remarking that "in the games I’ve seen, he has been one of the most outstanding players," per Anthony Vickers for Gazette Live. His best performances have often come in high-profile matches, as this tweet from Squawka Football highlights:
Squawka Football @Squawka
@CFCTWEET__ Ben Gibson's game by numbers vs. Arsenal: 100% aerial duels won 5 clearances 2 interceptions 1 block 0 fouls 0 goals conceded https://t.co/ZRcU10oYFN2016-10-23 00:12:07
What's more, in October last year England manager Gareth Southgate considered handing Gibson an international call-up, according to Kieran Gill for the Daily Mail. Although he has yet to represent the senior team, the 23-year-old has played for the under-21s on 10 occasions, including all three group-stage matches at the 2015 UEFA European Under-21 Championship.
Chelsea's hunt for a new defender comes as no surprise. Terry has rejected the opportunity to join Bournemouth on loan, according to Cross, which suggests Conte has little interest in giving the 36-year-old more chances this season. His sending off against Peterborough United in the FA Cup on Sunday cannot have helped.
Nathan Ake was recently recalled from his loan spell at the Cherries to provide additional cover in defence, but he may only have until the end of the campaign to prove his worth to Conte if Gibson is to join in the summer.
Ake is not the only loaned-out defender that Chelsea are hoping to bring back to the club. Andreas Christensen, who is 18 months into a two-year loan with Bundesliga outfit Borussia Monchengladbach, is expected back at the club this summer, according to his father.
"Chelsea would like Andreas back, and they have wanted that for a long time," Sten Christensen told Danish outlet BT (h/t Tom Olver for Metro. "He will not return to Chelsea and sit on the bench. It is the transfer window that determines how Andreas’ situation becomes in the summer. If Chelsea buy 10 central defenders, it may well be that we need to do something else."
The Blues do appear to be keen to secure centre-back options, suggesting Conte is not entirely happy with performances in recent weeks. Having conceded five goals in their last three matches in all competitions, the Blues must be hoping Ake can plug the gap until an offer for Gibson is made in the summer.