Aymeric Laporte’s club worried that Man United and Chelsea will be able to trigger his £36m buyout clause in January

Athletic Bilbao are worried that they will not be able to prevent defender Aymeric Laporte joining Manchester United, Chelsea, or Arsenal in January like they were able to during the summer, the Daily Express report.

The La Liga side were able to keep hold of the highly-rated centre-back during the off-season after telling any interested party that they would need to trigger his £36m buyout clause (via Express), and while that stance prevented any movement previously, it seems that Bilbao will be helpless during the winter window.

The Express report the television rights deal currently in place in England should allow the Premier League trio to go after the France under-21 international in January, where they will then have the resources to make a move happen.

The Gunners seem the most unlikely of the three to make a move, the Express report, as it seems that they will not look to change their transfer policy having brought no-one in during the summer apart from goalkeeper Petr Cech.

That means it could be a straight fight between Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal.

The Blues spent much of the summer trying to bring John Stones to Stamford Bridge (via Express), but having failed, they have drawn up a four-man shortlist, including Laporte, of defensive targets.

Having failed to land Stones, the champions brought in Nantes’ Papy Djilobodji and Reading’s Michael Hector. The latter has returned to the Championship until the end of the campaign on loan, while the 27-year-old does not appear to have the attributes to keep any of the Blues’ established defenders out of the side and may find that his opportunities are few and far between.

Should that prove to be the case, Mourinho’s desire to sign Laporte may have increased drastically by the time that the next window opens.

But the Red Devils cannot be discounted from the race, despite the fact that they decided to focus their deadline day attention on spending £36m on Monaco forward Anthony Martial (via Express).

Van Gaal may have looked at the blossoming partnership between Daley Blind and Chris Smalling, and then at the striker situation at Old Trafford and decided that if he could only take the gamble on one of their targets, it had to be France forward.

However, the fact that Blind is more natural as part of the midfield may see them come unstuck when they come up against some of the league’s best sides, who will look to exploit the Dutchman’s deficiencies in that part of the pitch.

If Blind fails to pass the test, then a new centre-back may well be on van Gaal’s shopping list. And with Laporte’s former Bilbao teammate Ander Herrera, as well as Martial – who has played alongside the defender at various youth levels for France – in his squad, he may be hoping that his players can use the next few months to sell the club to their target before he swoops in with a bid.

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