Manchester United will monitor Benfica star Ezequiel Garay closely over the coming months as they consider a possible big-money move for the defender at the end of the season, according to the Daily Mirror.

The Argentina international was linked with United during the January transfer window. A move failed to materialise before the deadline, but Ferguson is thought to be keen to scout the centre-back further to determine his suitability for the Premier League.

If he impresses at Benfica between now and the end of the season, the United boss could make a big-money bid for Garay this summer.

And the report claims Ferguson has lined up the Benfica star as a potential long-term replacement for Rio Ferdinand.

The 34-year-old is still a top-class player, and a key component of United's Premier League leading defence, but United are thought to be keen to plan for the future - and the 26-year-old Garay has been identified as a potential successor.

The Old Trafford club have been the Premier League's most consistent performers this campaign, and sit nine points clear at the top of the table.

But their defensive vulnerabilities have been there for all to see this season, with Robin Van Persie and the rest of the United attack required to bail out the Red Devils on more than one occasion. 

A move for Garay would not be straightforward however, as the Argentine has a third-party owner and Real Madrid would be due a percentage of any fee as part of their sell-on clause.

Such contractual wrangles have prompted United to make sure Garay is the man to anchor the Old Trafford defence for years to come, so expect scouts to be ever-present at Benfica games between now and the end of the season.

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