Barcelona could be set to enter the chase for young Ajax defender Matthijs de Ligt in replacement for veteran Javier Mascherano this winter, according to Spanish news outlet SPORT, after the Catalonians' boss Ernesto Valverde remained open-minded when asked about the Argentine's future at the club.
The 33-year-old, who has been a part of the Camp Nou set up for the past seven years following his £18m move from Liverpool in the summer of 2010, could be set to face the exit door in January, with his Spanish coach keen to freshen things up and begin to bleed in younger talent.
One motive that is suspected to be behind the potential axe is the fact the ageing defensive utilitarian is currently enduring his sixth injury of the year, with the latest a muscular problem which will see him ruled out of Barca's trip to Villarreal on Sunday evening.
Ahead of the tie, Valverde was questioned surrounding Mascherano's future at the club, to which he responded without guarantee that the player would still be representing Barcelona come the end of January.
Mahrez left the Algeria squad on transfer day with the hope that somebody, anybody would sign him... now Barcelona are playing 4 centre mids in a 4-4-2, Chelsea are losing to Moyes and Ashley Young is Utds best crosser.... well done everyone— Enda Higgins (@endahiggins88) December 9, 2017
"The [winter] transfer window is not here yet, but it's true that there are some issues that we must face", the Spaniard told his pre-match press conference, as quoted by Marca.
"For now, he is still with us and he has played at a very good level. If he leaves, we will look for alternatives."
It seems if Mascherano was to leave Catalonia next month that Barca have already lined up a potential replacement, with Ajax's De Ligt currently top of that list, with Palmeiras star Yeri Mina another option.
SPORT Barcelona correspondent Albert Roge tweeted that the La Liga giants' scouting of the young defender has brought back positive results, and that a €40m (£35m) fee would be suffice in order to open up negotiations with the Dutchman.
Matthijs de Ligt es el favorito para llegar al Barça en enero para ocupar la baja de Mascherano. Todos los informes son positivos y costaría mínimo 40M. El problema es que el Ajax no quiere vender hasta verano. Yerry Mina es la otra opción #fcblive pic.twitter.com/E32CrH4m6e— Albert Rogé (@albert_roge) December 8, 2017
However, it is also claimed that the current third-place Eredivisie side are wanting to hold out until the summer before allowing their academy graduate to depart the Johan Cruijff Arena.