Manchester United are monitoring targets with a view to reinforcing their central defence in the summer transfer window.
The MEN understands United are open to spending a significant sum on a new centre half or a forward in the summer, depending on how they fare between now and the end of the season.
United have the worst record of the Premier League top 10, having conceded 30 goals in 23 games – six short of their goals against tally last season and with 15 games remaining.
League leaders Manchester City have let in just 14 goals following the transformative £64.3million signing of Ruben Dias, shortlisted as a potential target by former United manager Jose Mourinho in 2018.
At the other end, United are the league’s top scorers with 49 goals and they have been buoyed by the expertise of Edinson Cavani up front. Cavani turns 34 on Sunday and could stay for a second season, which would allow United to park plans to move for a long-term striker until next year, unless they are compelled to move for Erling Haaland in the summer.
United prioritised a move for Jadon Sancho last summer but Borussia Dortmund demurred and United failed to reinforce their right-hand side. Teenage winger Amad – a specialist right winger – has already scored three goals and assisted three in two games for the Under-23s and the 18-year-old is expected to make his first-team debut this month.
The impact of the pandemic could have an impact on United’s summer plans after they spent £76.6million on four players last summer but the club have not drastically changed their preparations for the next window.
United have shown interest in RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano and remain admirers of Raphael Varane, although the Real Madrid enforcer is believed to have received an enticing contract offer now he is into the last 18 months of his existing deal.
Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer regards Kalidou Koulibaly among the best centre-backs in the world and the Napoli defender is approaching the last two years of his contract. However, Koulibaly turns 30 in June and may be deemed too old amid Solskjaer’s preference for long-term investments.
Solskjaer pushed for the £80m arrival of Harry Maguire in 2019 – still a world record fee for a defender – and the England international has started in every league game since he joined United. Maguire was the quickest United player to be appointed club captain in nearly 60 years but his status has been overshadowed by his own defensive shortcomings, most recently Maguire’s deep positioning for Everton’s equaliser in their 3-3 draw at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Victor Lindelof has started next to Maguire in 52 of the last 61 league games but has rarely convinced next to the England international and the brittle Eric Bailly has missed four of the last five games.
Bailly, 26, poses a dilemma for United as he has entered the last 18 months of his deal and the club must decide whether to offer the injury-prone defender a new contract or cash in. Despite joining United in 2016, Bailly has only played 96 times for the club – 38 of them coming in his maiden campaign – out of a possible 269 games.
Axel Tuanzebe, low on confidence after his unconvincing defending in the defeat to Sheffield United and draw with Everton, has been targeted by racist trolls and rookie defender Teden Mengi is on loan at Derby County.
Phil Jones has been included in United’s Premier League and Europa League squads but has not played in over a year and United hope to jettison him in the summer after finally jettisoning Marcos Rojo.
United wanted to sign Varane from Lens over Jones in 2011 but Zinedine Zidane intervened and the France international moved to Madrid. United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward was prepared to sanction a £100m bid for Varane in 2018 if he was attainable.