Chelsea and Manchester United have received a timely boost with regards to their pursuit of Roma star Mehdi Benatia, after it was revealed that the Italian giants are willing to let him leave.
Italian website TuttoSport claims to have knowledge that Roma are actively trying to find a replacement for the Moroccan defender, and are doing their best to sign Olympiacos star Konstantinos Manolas. It’s thought that despite the fact Rudi Garcia is keen to retain the services of his most experienced heads, Roma will now consent to letting Benatia leave, with French newspaper Le 10 Sport even stating that he could be forced out of the club.
Naturally this means good news for both Chelsea and United, both of whom have been registered amongst his European suitors for the past few months. With Jose Mourinho keen to find someone who can replace John Terry once he hangs up his boots, and Louis van Gaal looking to fill the void left by the respective departures of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, it would appear that a two-horse race could ensue.
Of the two clubs perhaps Chelsea have the upper hand thanks to the fact that they will be playing Champions League football next term, although Van Gaal could possibly seek to negate that advantage by offering more in terms of wages. It’s been said in the past that Benatia is looking to further his career having developed over the past four years in the Serie A - first with Udinese and then Roma - and in truth a move to either side could give him the option to do just that.
Benatia at United
Another decisive factor could be the game-time that both sides would offer him, with United surely having the upper hand. The departures of Patrice Evra, Ferdinand and Vidic have left a back-line devoid of any top level experience, and Van Gaal would likely look to make Benatia one of the stalwarts of his three man defence in the newly-implemented 3-5-2 system.
At the moment only Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans reside as recognised centre-backs at Old Trafford, and Benatia - valued at €35million - has the jump on all of them when it comes to pedigree. Deals for Thomas Vermaelen and Mats Hummels could yet be in the offing, but as it stands Van Gaal has yet to find a natural leader.
It makes sense to assume that batting away the competition from Mourinho will be no easy feat, particularly as the acquisition of another top defender seems to be high up on his list of things to do. Terry and Gary Cahill should be solid for another season but after that the former’s age will inevitably count against him, and backup option Kurt Zouma remains too young to be relied upon on a regular basis.
The likes of Real Madrid and Manchester City have also shown interest in Benatia, and so it’s with little doubt that we can predict Roma will have a relatively easy time flogging him if they so wish. With a deal for Manolas reportedly practically imminent, is it only a matter of time before the 27-year-old makes his way to English shores?