Manchester United are reportedly keen on young Everton defender Jarrad Branthwaite as they seek a long-term partner for Harry Maguire.
Branthwaite, 18, joined the Toffees from Carlisle United in January 2020. The towering centre-back had only played 14 times for the Cumbrian outfit before the Merseysiders handed him a two-and-a-half-year deal.
The youngster made his debut against Wolves in July and enjoyed four Premier League outings in 2019-2020. That earned him a fresh deal, with the Carlisle-born stopper contracted to the Goodison Park club until the summer of 2023.
He was on the bench four times during the first half of this season but saw no action. His only game time came in the 3-0 EFL Cup victory over Salford City in September last year.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti felt it was best for all parties concerned to send him out on loan in January. He joined Blackburn Rovers until the end of the campaign and has seen plenty of action.
The youngster has played every minute of seven Championship games since arriving at Ewood Park. He started with a draw and two wins but Rovers have now lost four consecutive league matches.
It is all valuable experience for a player that Everton feel could be a star in the making. That will inevitably attract other clubs and the Red Devils have been linked.
The Daily Mail are suggesting United scouts have been watching him at Rovers and been impressed with what they have seen.
Defensive decisions to be made
The decision to sign Maguire from Leicester City means that the Old Trafford outfit will stick with the England man. Former United full-back Gary Neville admitted as much in his role as a Sky Sports pundit.
“They’re not going to turf Maguire out,” he said. “They’ve invested £80m, he’s the cornerstone of the defence and the one they will build the defence around.”
But a place next to the Sheffield-born star could be up for grabs. Many have been tried at the heart of defence but come up short.
Victor Lindelof has started 18 Premier League games this term but the jury is till out on the Swede. Eric Bailly has been unable to nail down his spot while Phil Jones’s days at the club seem numbered.
Axel Tuanzebe has also yet to convince meaning a new man might be brought in to play alongside Maguire. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could be busy in the summer looking for the right player and Branthwaite’s name has been mentioned.
He might not have enough experience to go straight into the side but is one for the future. That could give one of the other defenders a stay of execution.
But it seems inevitable Maguire will have a new face beside him sooner rather than later.