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Andre Villa-Boas makes the Fulham man his top midfield target as he seeks to replace Luka Modric but Sir Alex Ferguson could also bid for Belgian before transfer window shuts

EXCLUSIVE
By Wayne Veysey | Chief Correspondent

Tottenham have edged ahead of Manchester United in the race to sign Moussa Dembele before the transfer window closes.

Sources have told Goal.com that the two Premier League big hitters have both made fresh enquiries for the Fulham midfielder in recent weeks.

But the west Londoners remain confident they can hold on to their prize asset, who they value between £12-15million.

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Fulham are believed to have triggered an option to extend Dembele’s initial three-year contract by a further year, tying him to Craven Cottage to 2014.

Nevertheless, there is a growing expectation that Spurs will make a formal bid for the 25-year-old Belgian before Friday’s deadline after finally agreeing to sell Luka Modric to Real Madrid in a deal worth £33.2m.

Tottenham want to bring in a replacement for the Croatian but Andre Villas-Boas’ top target Joao Moutinho is deemed too expensive because of his £30m price tag.

Spurs are close to securing Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Willian, but remain frustrated in their attempts to sign Leandro Damiao from Internacional.

Villas-Boas has cooled on Yann M’Vila because of his similarity in playing style to Sandro and Scott Parker, and is ready to sanction a move for Dembele, who has been converted into a central midfielder by Martin Jol with such success.

However, the Belgium international is also highly regarded by United, who have contacted Fulham to ask for their valuation of the player as Sir Alex Ferguson seeks a proven and relatively cheap answer to his long-running conundrum in the centre of the park.

Dembele would prefer to move to a team who will play in the Champions League next season, which gives United the upper hand should they meet Fulham’s valuation.

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Manchester City and Chelsea have cooled on Dembele, but Arsenal cannot be ruled out after registering their interest in the player at the end of last season.

Fulham know they cannot compete on wages or status with the richest Premier League clubs, and accept they will struggle to hold on to the Belgian if they receive an attractive offer.

Speaking about Dembele after his outstanding display in Fulham’s 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford on Saturday, Jol said: “He plays and he likes the club, so there's no problem. You have to pay a lot of money to get Dembele. There won't be a lot of clubs putting that sort of money on the table, so I think we are fine.”

The Belgian was a revelation for Fulham in the last few months of last season after Jol converted him from a deep-lying forward to a central midfielder.

He has scored only seven goals in 74 appearances for Fulham, although regular observers believe he could be even more effective playing with higher quality players.

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