The Manchester Evening News understands United held exploratory discussions with the representatives of Antonio Rudiger, out of contract in Chelsea at the summer, but there is little expectation of the Germany international joining them.

Sources close to the player are more focused on discussing potential contracts with clubs guaranteed of playing in the Champions League next season. Although United are three points behind fourth-placed Tottenham, their next three fixtures are away at Liverpool and Arsenal, as well as Chelsea at home.

United signed Raphael Varane from Real Madrid in the summer and while the 28-year-old has excelled in the majority of his appearances, Varane has missed 15 matches through injury or illness.

Varane was United’s first-choice target, with Villarreal centre half Pau Torres their back-up option last year. Torres has helped Villarreal reach the Champions League semi-finals and is likely to start for Spain at the World Cup. United have already conceded 44 goals in the Premier League – as many as they shipped across 38 games last season – and they are in danger of surpassing the 2018-19 season tally of 54 goals against, the club’s worst top-flight defensive performance in 40 years.

United are prepared to let Eric Bailly and Phil Jones leave, with both players also open to moving on. Despite signing a new contract last April, Bailly has played seven times for United this season and appeared more times for the Cote d’Ivoire national team.

Jones, 30, has started once in the last two years but the brittle defender has stayed fit for the majority of the season and wishes to seek regular playing time. Axel Tuanzebe could also leave after two poor loan spells with Aston Villa and Napoli. United were prepared to move for a second centre-back last year but Bailly’s renewal and Jones’s knee injury prevented any move.