Inter Milan is closing in on a deal to sign Real Madrid midfielder Mahamadou Diarra, according to the Corriere dello Sport.

The 26-year-old has been tipped to leave the Spanish giants for quite some time, now due to his frosty relationship with Coach Bernd Schuster.

Diarra hasn't been in the Real lineup recently, as Argentine youngster Fernando Gago is now Schuster's preferred defensive midfielder.

Inter has identified the signing of a top-class center midfielder as its priority in this summer's transfer market, as the injury-prone Patrick Vieira -- who has missed much of the season with injury -- is set to turn 32.

Diarra joined Madrid from Lyon in the summer of 2006 for $42 million, but he has never really settled in the Spanish capital.

Reports in the Spanish press Tuesday morning suggested that Madrid was looking to replace the Mali international with Chelsea's Michael Essien, who is keen to leave Stamford Bridge following the departure of José Mourinho.

Essien and Diarra were former teammates at French outfit Lyon, where they formed a rock-solid partnership in the middle of the park.

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