Everton have emerged as the surprise leaders in the race to complete an £8m deal for Cardiff City defender Steven Caulker, despite Premier League rivals and contenders in next season's Champions League monitoring the England international's situation closely.
Caulker has been perennially linked with a move to both Liverpool and Arsenal in the last two months, title contenders who both definitely need additions in central defence to manage the workload of fighting on multiple fronts next season.
The 22-year-old is available thanks to a relegation release clause in his Cardiff contract, with the Express reporting that Everton are the club best placed to finally turn reports into a concrete offer the for the commanding young defender.
Despite being a dominant theme in the early summer transfer gossip columns Caulker has insisted on more than one occasion he is no rush to lead a Cardiff exodus following relegation to the Championship, which should not detract from a string of impressive displays produced by the former Tottenham Hotspur starlet last term.
A defender in demand
Arsenal and Liverpool fans may be left underwhelmed if they do indeed end up beating Everton to Caulker's signature, but its an addition they could both desperately do with.
Liverpool shipped 50 goals in 30 Premier League games last season and it was at centre-back that they consistently made key mistakes at crucial times, with Mamadou Sakho popular but at time unconvincing, while Kolo Toure struggled to prove his worth as experienced cover as a long campaign wore on.
Arsenal meanwhile are fighting a losing battle to persuade club captain Thomas Vermaelen that he should be content with playing second-fiddle to Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, which means Gunners boss Arsene Wenger needs to find reliable cover at an affordable price, even if that doesn't excite the Emirates faithful.
Newcastle United and Caulker's former club Swansea City, where he played under Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, have also been offered the chance to launch a summer swoop, but it's Everton who believe they will win the five-team race to pull off quite coup.
Toffees manager Roberto Martinez has identified Caulker as a star capable of eventually replacing, or at the very least deputising, for veteran centre-back Sylvain Distin, who at the age of 36 will need a reduced workload next season once the demands of European football kick in.
Martinez is determined to make sure Everton's best-ever Premier League points haul last term is the rule rather the exception moving forward, which means fighting the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal for transfer targets on a more consistent basis.
Caulker has the capability to make a step up next season, but it remains to be seen whether that takes place on Meryseyside or elsewhere.
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