Chelsea’s ongoing pursuit of Everton’s John Stones has stolen many headlines in the last few weeks, with both clubs going public with their thoughts on the 21-year-old’s potential move from Liverpool to London.
While Stones is clearly a very gifted defender, he's far from the only option out there – good news, seeing as the Blues aren't likely to get him. "The player is not for sale and that is the end of it," huffed Toffees boss Roberto Martinez. "Our situation has been very clear from the beginning. We are not a selling club who will lose our best performers."
So, Jose, here's a septet of stoppers who could fit the bill instead...
Aymen Abdennour (Monaco)
Monaco registered 20 clean sheets and conceded just 26 goals on their way to a third-place finish in Ligue 1 last term, an impressive defensive record that Abdennour played an essential role in achieving.
Aggressive and uncompromising, the Tunisian is a powerful centre-back who looks to dominate opposition strikers with his physicality. The 26-year-old is imposing both in the air and in the tackle, and is more than happy to step out from the back to engage opponents higher up the pitch.
Such an approach can occasionally see him caught out and earn one too many yellow cards, but his robustness and no-nonsense mentality would likely be appreciated by a manager like Mourinho. Abdennour has been linked with Barcelona, Liverpool and Arsenal already this summer, so Chelsea may have to get in there quickly if they want to land him.
Aymeric Laporte (Athletic Bilbao)
SCOUTED Aymeric Laporte
You could be forgiven for assuming Laporte is a midfielder rather than defender. Composed with the ball at his feet, the Frenchman possesses great vision and a superb left foot that's capable of spreading play and delivering accurate, long passes. His technical ability doesn't mean he can't defend, though: Laporte is strong and an excellent tackler, while his ability to play at left-back adds versatility to his game.
Laporte recently extended his Athletic contract until 2019, but recent history has shown that putting pen to paper on a new deal doesn't necessarily prevent a transfer – not least as he has a €50 million release clause that could be activated. Even if he is likely to command a hefty fee, Chelsea could do far worse than the Frenchman, who has also attracted interest from Manchester United and Arsenal in the past.
Daniele Rugani (Juventus)
While the Italian public are wary of placing excessive pressure on the shoulders of Rugani, the Juventus man is widely seen as the Azzurri’s next great defender. Confident in possession and rarely caught out of position, the 21-year-old is an assured presence at the heart of the backline.
Despite his undoubted potential, Rugani may find a regular starting role difficult to come by this term, with Juve already boasting some excellent centre-halves in Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Martin Caceres. Having spent the last two seasons playing week in, week out on loan at Empoli, Chelsea may be able to tempt Rugani to Stamford Bridge with the promise of regular action.
SCOUTED Daniele Rugani
A few eyebrows were raised when PSG paid Roma £27m for a teenage Marquinhos in 2013, but anyone who'd seen the Brazilian perform for the Giallorossi the previous year was able to see why he'd commanded such a large transfer fee. A ball-playing centre-back who isn't afraid of a physical duel despite standing at ‘only’ 6ft tall, Marquinhos has most of the traits any manager would want in a modern-day defender.
With David Luiz and Thiago Silva having nailed down the two central slots, Marquinhos has been forced onto the right side of defence in recent months. Thus, a guarantee of being played in his favoured position for another team challenging for major honours could be enough to turn the 21-year-old’s head.
Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal)
Musacchio was given his River Plate debut as a 16-year-old by none other than Daniel Passarella, the greatest defender in Argentine football history. Musacchio probably isn't good enough to replicate the ex-Fiorentina and Inter man's achievements – Passarella won two World Cups with the Albiceleste in 1978 and 1986 – but his intelligent positioning and footballing brain suggest he could become one of the best in the world in his position. A horrific leg break and ankle dislocation sustained in April means Musacchio is currently out of action, but he's shown enough over the last few years to prove he has all the makings of a top central defender. As long as there are no problems in his recovery, Chelsea could do far worse than picking up Musacchio – who, at 24, still has ample time on his side – at some point in the next 12 months.
Antonio Rudiger (Stuttgart)
SCOUTED Antonio Rudiger
Likened to Jerome Boateng by Germany boss Joachim Low, Rudiger is speedy and athletic, characteristics that have frequently allowed him to get his perennially relegation-threatened side out of trouble.
Also able to play at full-back if needed, Rudiger’s ability with the ball at his feet along with his physical capacities makes him a good all-round defender.
Reports in the German media indicated that Rudiger was keen on a switch to Stamford Bridge when he was linked with the Premier League champions earlier this summer. Were Chelsea to make a bid deemed acceptable by Stuttgart, it shouldn't be too difficult to agree personal terms with the 22-year-old. They might just fancy waiting a while to see how he fares this season, though.
Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)
Given that Varane is arguably the best young centre-half in the world, Madrid would understandably be loath to lose him. However, with Pepe and Sergio Ramos set to sign new deals at the Bernabeu, it's unclear how much first-team action the 22-year-old will see in 2015/16. With a European Championship in his home country on the horizon, the France international could feasibly look to push for a move away if Chelsea submitted a suitable bid. After all, Varane has only managed a paltry 33 La Liga starts in the last two campaigns – even if his absence was sometimes down to injury. While undoubtedly quick and strong, Varane’s biggest attribute is his reading of the game; the youngster’s tackles are invariably well-timed, with only seven yellow cards to his name in almost 150 professional matches to date evidence of his awareness and intelligence.
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