Chelsea are ready to battle Manchester United for Frenkie de Jong after progressing in talks with Barcelona over a possible deal for the Dutch ace, 90min has learned.
De Jong has been and remains United's primary summer target following the appointment of Erik ten Hag, and the club have been working on the deal for over three months.
To date, United have struck an agreement with Barcelona for an overall €85m, but have yet to close the transfer due to De Jong not yet receiving deferred wages owed to him by Barcelona totalling as much as £17m. United have been relaxed in their approach and confident that the deal will eventually be completed, though their Premier League rivals have now formalised their interest.
90min reported on Monday that United were considering forcing through the deal by helping Barcelona pay the deferred wages back to De Jong, amid growing interest from Chelsea, though the Blues have now opened talks of their own with Barcelona to strike a deal.
De Jong's preference has been to stay at Barcelona, though he would like to play in the Champions League in an ideal world if he were to leave. Barcelona have been looking to sell the player to raise transfer funds and clear a massively inflated wage bill to meet LaLiga salary requirements, or negotiate a reduced deal to keep De Jong, who is happy and settled in Spain, with the club.
Waiving the deferred wages would also likely be necessary if De Jong were to renew, and his camp have been unwilling to compromise with Barcelona to date.
De Jong has spoken to United manager Erik ten Hag a number of times over the last few weeks, and is open to a move to Old Trafford once the deferred wages matter is resolved. But Chelsea formalising their interest may now complicate matters for a club who have put aside other targets in order to secure the Dutchman's signature.
Thomas Tuchel's side have been busy in the market so far this summer, signing the likes of Raheem Sterling and Kalidou Koulibaly, while also acquiring young prospects Gabriel Slonina and Carney Chukwuemeka - though the latter's deal is yet to be 100% completed. Marc Cucurella of Brighton, Leicester's Wesley Fofana and Inter's Denzel Dumfries are also targets, along with a new right winger and an attacker.
They have held interest in De Jong for some time - as 90min confirmed - and space could open up in the midfield for him with doubt over the future of Jorginho and N'Golo Kante, who are both out of contract in 2023. The former is attracting interest from Juventus in the current window, and Juventus could make room for him by offloading Arthur to Valencia.
Chelsea also hold other bargaining chips in Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta, who are among Barcelona's remaining transfer targets for the summer - indeed both players have agreed personal terms ahead of possible moves the Camp Nou.
The fact Barca and Chelsea are already talks does rase the possibility, though a complicated one, that negotiations over all three deals taking place could suit both parties.