Exclusive - Manchester United are to prioritise signing a central defender in 2021, with Villarreal star Pau Torres - who has attracted interest from Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal - on the club's shortlist of potential partners for captain Harry Maguire.
United spent a world record £80m on Maguire in 2019, but there are doubts over whether Victor Lindelof or Eric Bailly are the answer long-term, while the Red Devils are still trying to shift defensive deadwood Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones after dispensing with Chris Smalling over the summer.
United also have Axel Tuanzebe on the books and rate the home-grown centre-back very highly, but still want to bring in another high quality addition to the defensive ranks.
A source has told 90min that United see a new centre-back as one of their priorities for 2021, with 23-year-old Torres moving to the top of their list of options alongside much talked about RB Leipzig and France defender Dayot Upamecano.
An approach in January is unlikely at this stage, but the Red Devils had eyes on Torres back in July and are long-term admirers of the Spaniard.
Torres emerged from the youth ranks at Villarreal and became a first-team regular last season after an initial breakthrough loan at Malaga in the Spanish second tier in 2018/19. He has been starting regularly for Spain since March and there is surprise that he hasn’t already been picked up.
There is now a feeling that his time at El Madrigal could be coming to an end sooner rather than later and his current buyout clause of just under £60m isn’t putting suitors off given his long-term upside. That amount, however, is far more than Upamecano’s £37m clause at Leipzig.
United could be rivalled in any pursuit for Torres because of his rapidly growing reputation, but he and Upamecano are not the only central defenders they are considering.
Although short-term, the club would be happy to move for Real Madrid veteran Sergio Ramos if he opts against signing a new contract in favour of a new challenge. However, neither they nor the rest of the Premier League’s top clubs are convinced he will actually move on.
Sevilla starlet Jules Kounde, who has revealed he was personally called by Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola over the summer, Brighton’s Ben White and Leicester’s Caglar Soyuncu are the other younger centre-backs United have been watching closely over the last six months.