One of the biggest transfer battles in the EFL this January could come for Hearts centre-back John Souttar with a number of clubs tracking the 25-year-old ahead of a potential move.
Souttar’s form this season has earned him a recall into the Scotland squad and he took that chance with both hands last month by scoring against Denmark in a World Cup qualifier.
A rupture of his achilles forced Souttar onto the sidelines for most of last season and in the previous campaign it was an ankle injury that kept him away from the action, so his ability to recover from two long setbacks has not gone unnoticed.
As well as Rangers and Celtic showing an interest north of the border, a whole host of teams in the Championship have signalled their interest in Souttar with January looming and his contract expiring in the summer.
Let’s see which clubs he would suit and be needed by and the ones that probably don’t need him.
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This would seem like a pretty obvious place to start considering John’s younger brother, Harry, is one of the Potters’ stand-out players at the back.
However the Australia international has had his season ended by a knee injury, so Stoke will be desperate for defensive reinforcements when the transfer window reopens.
If their interest is genuine then you could imagine that John would want to link-up with his sibling once again when he’s recovered from his surgery and with Leo Ostigard only on loan from Brighton, the Souttar’s could make a great back three with Ben Wilmot next season.
Rovers skipper Darragh Lenihan’s future is very much up in the air at Ewood Park, with his contract expiring in the summer.
That means that Souttar could be the ideal replacement should the Republic of Ireland international decide he wants a fresh challenge after coming through the academy at Blackburn.
If Lenihan decides to stay though then there’s less of a need to bring Souttar in from Hearts so we will have to wait and see what happens on that front.
Queens Park Rangers
The R’s perhaps lack depth at the back, with Mark Warburton having a settled back three of Rob Dickie, Jimmy Dunne and Yoann Barbet with Jordy de Wijs as cover.
Another body could be useful though although there’s bound to be speculation linking Dickie with a big-money move to the Premier League next month – could Souttar replace him?
Chris Wilder will no doubt be backed in January and the defence is one area that could do with a bit of bolstering.
The fact that Lee Peltier has been playing in a back three suggests they’re struggling with Dael Fry currently on the sidelines and Souttar would bring a bit more mobility to the defence should Boro make a move for him.
The Seasiders lack the financial muscle that most of the other clubs on here have, but they’re ambitious and are performing above expectations this season.
Their centre-back options on paper are hardly the best with Richard Keogh also coming towards the end of his career and Souttar could naturally slot into his position alongside Marvin Ekpiteta.
Preston North End
Joining their Lancashire rivals Blackpool and Blackburn in the Souttar chase are PNE, who are yet to tie up a new contract for Patrick Bauer.
With Sepp van den Berg also a loanee and not a permanent player at Deepdale, a move for Souttar could make a bit of sense but they again probably lack the financial muscle to be a serious contender.
Another linked team that plays with a back three on a regular basis, Millwall are another side with a loanee at the back in Arsenal’s Dan Ballard.
Souttar could be a good replacement in the summer when the Northern Ireland international heads back to the Gunners and there’s a gap in the team but he probably wouldn’t be needed at The Den any sooner.
With rumours of Dion Sanderson potentially heading back to Wolves in January as they hold a recall clause in his loan move, a new centre-back may very well be on the agenda for Lee Bowyer.
Souttar was linked but according to BirminghamLive, the Blues are not pursuing a deal for the 25-year-old so you can cross them off the list of potential destinations.
Even though Luton have probably one of the smaller budgets in the divisions, they were able to bring highly-rated Motherwell midfielder Allan Campbell to Kenilworth Road in the summer after his contract expired at Fir Park.
And they could do the same potentially for Souttar as they’re clearly ambitious for their size and play good football under Nathan Jones.
Luton do seem to have decent options already at centre-back though – but Souttar would only strengthen them.
Out of all the mountain of options that could be on the table for Souttar in January – taking Rangers and Celtic out of the equation and looking solely at the EFL – then Stoke City are surely the most ideal for him.
It would bolster their play-off hopes even more but there’s a few other Championship clubs who Souttar would suit – namely Blackburn Rovers and Middlesbrough being high up on that list.