Chelsea plan to loan out Kurt Zouma as part of a defensive reshuffle that they hope will see Virgil van Dijk join the club in the summer.
Head coach Antonio Conte wants to make changes to his defensive options for next season, despite the fact Chelsea are on course for a Premier League and FA Cup double.
Southampton may yet play hardball over the fee for £50million-rated Van Dijk, who has also interested Arsenal and Liverpool, but Chelsea are confident an agreement will be reached.
With Andreas Christensen returning from a two-year loan at Borussia Monchengladbach, Chelsea need to make space in their squad for Van Dijk. Captain John Terry will leave at the end of the season and Chelsea believe Zouma is the most suitable defender to send out on loan.
The Frenchman missed almost a year after suffering a cruciate knee ligament injury last February and has made 11 first-team appearances this season.
Rather than spend another campaign on the sidelines, Chelsea believe Zouma needs to play regularly next season – something he is unlikely to do at Stamford Bridge. The Blues would also ideally like 21-year-old Christensen to work under Conte and integrate himself into the first-team squad.
Southampton are among a clutch of clubs who admire Christensen and could yet request that he heads in the opposite direction as part of any deal for Van Dijk. Chelsea would prefer to send other youngsters to St Mary’s, although Southampton are not thought to be among the clubs interested in Zouma.
Crucially, with the club returning to the Champions League next season, both Christensen and Nathan Ake qualify as home-grown players under the ‘association trained’ rule in Europe.
The biggest challenge for Chelsea will be to convince both Christensen and Ake that they will play enough first-team games to make it worth staying at Stamford Bridge. Christensen has stated in the past that he does not want to return to Chelsea to sit on the substitutes’ bench, while Ake is eager to play more after doing so well on loan at Bournemouth in the first half of this season.
Ake started the FA Cup semi-final victory over Tottenham Hotspur and also replaced David Luiz in the vital win at Everton, but the 22-year-old wants to start regularly next season.
Chelsea could offer both Christensen and Ake new contracts to convince them to stay and demonstrate their long-term commitment to their development. Bournemouth failed in a bid to buy Ake in January and remain interested, while Stoke City are also thought to be tracking the talented Dutchman.