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Posted by Sam Barnard - 25 February 2014

Manchester United want Mehdi Benatia to replace Nemanja Vidic

Reports from the continent claim Morocco centre back is ‘top priority’ target to shore up Red Devils defence next season

Manchester United’s first choice option as a replacement for outgoing club captain Nemanja Vidic is Roma defender Mehdi Benatia, according to reports in Italy.

Born in France to a Moroccan father and an Algerian mother, 26-year-old Benatia has become one of Serie A’s most consistent defenders in recent seasons.

He only joined Roma from Udinese last summer for a reported £11m, and has helped his new team to keep an impressive 16 clean sheets so far this term. That is currently the best defensive record in top European leagues alongside French outfit Lille.

Red Devils manager David Moyes is ready to move quickly to secure Benatia’s signature as he has also been a target for north London neighbours Arsenal and Spurs.

With United struggling to make a top-four finish (Coral are 7/1 for them to finish the season there), however, they may find it difficult to lure him away from the Eternal City.

“I am loving my time in Italy,” Benatia said last summer. “The league is a very good one and to be honest an important Italian team will always be my first choice unless a huge English, Spanish or German club come in for me.”

Benatia looks set to play Champions League football with Roma next season as they currently sit second in the league, and have a 12-point cushion on a place at Europe’s top table. He is also their joint second top-scorer in Serie A with five in 23 games.

Remodelling his defence is a top priority for Moyes as United may also lose Rio Ferdinand as well as Vidic at the end of the season. Coral offer a special bet of 9/4 on 35-year-old Ferdinand retiring when his contract at Old Trafford ends this summer.

Starting his career with Marseille, 6ft 3in centre half Benatia failed to make the grade at the Stade Velodrome. He also counts Tours and Clermont among his former clubs. At international level, Benatia has 31 caps for Morocco and went to the last two Africa Cup of Nations tournaments in 2013 and 2012.

The Red Devils resume their Champions League campaign with a trip to Greek champions Olympiakos. Injuries to other centre back options Phil Jones and Jonny Evans meant they have not travelled, so old guard Ferdinand and Vidic may start together again.

Back Moyes’ men to win their last 16 first leg encounter in Greece at 5/4 and 6/4 to keep a clean sheet.