Manchester United could be dealt an early blow in their summer transfer plans, with both Manchester City and Barcelona ahead of them in the pecking order to land Everton defender John Stones.
The Daily Telegraph reports incoming Red Devils boss Jose Mourinho has identified the England international as a priority transfer target to strengthen United's back line.
However, City and Barcelona are reported to have reaffirmed their interest in Stones over the past week and are both expected to table bids for him before the start of the European Championships next month.
Both clubs will play in the Champions League next season, while United can only offer Europa League football after finishing fifth in the Premier League.
Stones is still highly coveted by Europe's top clubs despite coming under criticism for his performances for Everton this season.
He has made 77 league appearances for the Toffees and has a contract with the Merseyside club until 2019.
Mourinho tried to sign Stones at Chelsea last summer but Everton rejected all transfer bids from the Blues for the player – the highest amounting to £37m ($54m).
The Telegraph said United would have no qualms about matching the Merseyside club's asking price of £40m, but could face a struggle to attract the player to Old Trafford without Champions League football.
City boss Pep Guardiola is understood to be an admirer of Stones and reportedly wants to pair him with Athletic Bilbao defender Aymeric Laporte in a new-look defence at the Etihad, while Spanish champions Barcelona have also scouted the centre-back for some time.
The Telegraph claims Mourinho is also bound to fail in his quest to bring Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic to Old Trafford, with his former club unwilling to sanction the sale of the 27-year-old.
Mourinho, 53, is holding talks with United representatives and is expected to be named as the successor to Louis van Gaal within the next 48 hours.