Premier League rivals Arsenal and Chelsea are reportedly keeping an eye on the ongoing situation regarding Eric Bailly's uncertain future at Manchester United, with both clubs in desperate need of defensive reinforcements ahead of next season.
The Bailly question first cropped up earlier this month when a Daily Mirror report claimed the player was worried about being 'frozen out' by manager Jose Mourinho after being kept out of the team following a bout of illness.
There was then further speculation when several media outlets made unverified assumptions about his absence from the club's annual end of season award ceremony this week - was his no-show evidence of a falling out with Mourinho, they asked.
But ESPN has pointed out that Bailly was actually forced to miss the awards evening as a result of a dental problem. He is expected to be available for Friday's game against Brighton, though.
The same ESPN report is also the origin of the Arsenal and Chelsea rumour. Both clubs are said to be monitoring the Ivorian to see how things develop, although it is made clear that Bailly himself 'remains determined to win back his place and remain at Old Trafford'.
Despite strong performances following his £30m arrival from Villarreal in 2016, Bailly has already missed a sizeable chunk of the season through injury and Mourinho has always been notoriously untrusting of players struggling for fitness.
It suggests that Bailly may not actually feature much in the remainder of the campaign, which is sure to fuel even more speculation about a possible summer exit.
Mourinho justified any further exclusion of Bailly in the remaining two weeks of the season, that will see United play four games in two competitions, when he addressed the media on Thursday. He said his other centre-backs - Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Victor Lindelof - are all fighting to go to the World Cup with their countries and have more pushing them.
Bailly seemingly has less to motivate him. And even though Mourinho doesn't want to make selections decisions based on sentimental reasons, he said he is not a monster and would likely help the others more due to Ivory Coast's failure to qualify.
"He's the only central defender whose country is not in the World Cup, so if I have to make a kind of more emotional effective choice to help my players he's the one I'm not going to help," the United boss explained.
"I try not to [make sentimental decisions], I try to be a good team manager and that means being a bit cold, a bit selfish, but I'm not as bad as that and I still have space for some feelings. So when I look to the others fighting for a position in the World Cup, I'm giving less to Eric."