Napoli's prolific Uruguay international striker Edinson Cavani has emerged as the frontrunner to replace Didier Drogba at Chelsea next summer as the club's manager, Andre Villas-Boas, draws up plans to continue his radical overhaul of his squad.
The Portuguese has dispatched Chelsea's newly appointed European scout, Mick Doherty, to monitor the 24-year-old striker on a number of occasions this season and is believed to consider Cavani an ideal candidate to succeed the Ivorian if, as expected, he leaves the club at the end of the current season.
Chelsea would have contemplated offers for the 33-year-old, suspended for this lunchtime's crucial Premier League derby with Arsenal, both last summer and the previous year had any suitable bids arrived. With the player's contract due to expire at the end of this campaign, they are not thought to be prepared to offer him anything more than a single season's extension.
Villas-Boas is keen to reduce drastically the age of his squad, a task started last summer with the arrivals of Juan Mata, Thibault Courtois and Oriol Romeu. Cavani, nine years Drogba's junior, would fit that pattern.
Napoli successfully resisted the overtures of Manchester City for their most valuable asset last summer, with the club's extrovert president, Aurelio de Laurentiis, expressing his determination to allow coach Walter Mazzarri the strongest possible side for the team's first-ever assault on the Champions League.
Though Cavani has continued his impressive vein of form this season – scoring against City at the Etihad Stadium last month before producing a stunning hat-trick to blow Milan away in Naples – and Napoli have started the Serie A campaign sufficiently well to be considered potential title challengers, the club would be vulnerable to a substantial bid this summer if the city's first Scudetto since 1990 proves elusive.
Chelsea were yesterday fined £20,000 by the Football Association after they admitted a charge of failing to ensure their players behaved properly during last Sunday's derby defeat at QPR.Reuse content