Premier League title race: Man City stretch lead at top
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Rafa Benitez could complete his defensive overhaul at Everton in the summer by targeting Barcelona centre-back Ronald Araujo. The Toffees have already spent £29million on reinforcements in January amid a dismal run of form in which they have won just one of their last 12 games, losing eight.
There will be questions about whether Benitez will still be Everton manager by the end of the season, but he’s attempted to solve his side’s defensive woes in the last few days.
Dynamo Kyiv left-back Vitaliy Mykolenko has arrived at Goodison Park in a £17m deal, replacing outcast Lucas Digne.
And on Tuesday, 20-year-old Rangers right-back Nathan Petterson completed his £12m transfer.
Benitez’s sights could now be on the core of his defence, with Barcelona in a vulnerable position to lose Araujo.
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The Blaugrana add Dani Alves and Ferran Torres to their books this month, and a few young stars are also due first-team contracts.
Araujo is one of those youth graduates deserving of a significant pay rise after featuring in 15 of Barcelona’s 19 La Liga games this season.
But he poses as another player to fit under the salary cap – amid Barca’s well-documented financial instability – and his basic contract has entered its final 18 months.
And according to The Athletic, Everton are among suitors willing to offer the Uruguayan star much-improved terms in the summer transfer window.
Only Gerard Pique has made more league appearances at centre-back than Araujo this season.
The 22-year-old also featured in five of Barca’s six Champions League group stage games.
Everton have the sixth-worst defence in the Premier League this season, so Benitez’s focus on improving that area is unsurprising.
And the arrival of a promising centre-half with experience at the highest level domestically and in Europe would undoubtedly boost the Toffees.
Xavi could show resistance to letting Araujo leave, though, based on his comments in November.
He said: “I’m very happy to have Ronald [Araujo] on the team. He has such a great personality.
“He celebrates everything, and to have that type of profile as a defender, to be so engaged with the team, and celebrate everything is hard to find.
“We welcome him with open arms because it’s spectacular to see him train. He’s so positive, he has an excellent character, and that’s fundamental to us.”
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