Barcelona have reportedly stepped up their pursuit of Matthijs de Ligt, and are preparing to make a swoop for the Ajax defender in January.

Spanish publication Mundo Deportivo have reported that Barcelona want to accelerate the operation of bringing Matthijs de Ligt to Camp Nou. The Blaugrana are, thus, plotting a January move for the Ajax prodigy, with Thomas Vermaelen expected to call it quits midway through the season.

De Ligt joined the fabled Ajax academy as a nine-year-old in 2008, rapidly progressing through the ranks before breaking into the first-team setup last season. All of 17, the player grabbed the opportunity with both hands, making 23 appearances under Peter Bosz.

In particular, de Ligt earned plaudits for his stellar performance in a losing cause against Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League final, having shown maturity beyond his years at the heart of defence. And this season, the teenager has only gone from strength to strength after cementing his place in the first-team setup.

Unsurprisingly, the 18-year-old has garnered a lot of attention towards his talent, with several clubs expressing their interest in him. But, Barcelona have taken the first step towards securing his services, having established contact with Ajax over the possibility of signing him in the winter transfer window.

The Catalan club have, in fact, been monitoring the player’s progress for a long time now, with Manager of Sport Pep Segura and Sporting Director Robert Fernandez watching him in action several times. They have now decided to make a move for him in January, with the future of Thomas Vermaelen uncertain.

The veteran Belgian defender has struggled for fitness since joining Barcelona in 2014, and is eager to leave in January in order to secure regular game time and make a case for a place in Belgium’s World Cup squad.

Apart from Vermaelen’s situation, the form of Gerard Pique so far this season has also been a cause for concern, while Javier Mascherano is only seen as a bit-part player.

With Yerry Mina likely to arrive in the summer of 2018, de Ligt has emerged as a viable January target, who could become a reliable long-term partner for Samuel Umtiti at the heart of the Barcelona defence.

Ajax though, are unwilling to let the youngster depart in the winter as he is an instrumental part of the first-team squad that is challenging for the Eredivisie title. On top of that, the Dutch giants are not in a desperate need to sell players in January, having recouped €40 million for Davinson Sanchez in the summer.

Thus, Barcelona will most likely have to wait till next summer to secure the services of de Ligt, when the competition for him could increase as well. As far as the January window is concerned, the Blaugrana will have to set their sights elsewhere for defensive reinforcements.

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