By Paul Clennam & Hassan Talib Haji
Manchester United have sent scouts to run the rule over Schalke's World Cup-winning defender Benedikt Howedes, Goal understands.
Howedes was an ever-present at left-back for Germany in the summer, but primarily plays in the heart of the defence for the Bundesliga side.
Like Marcos Rojo, who United signed from Sporting this summer, Howedes's versatility appeals to Louis van Gaal as he continues his search for reinforcements at the back ahead of the January transfer window.
The 26-year-old's contract expires in 2017 and he is valued at around €18 million [£14m] by Schalke, which would fall comfortably into the Red Devils' price range should they be tempted to make their interest concrete.
The Premier League side have scouted Howedes on several occasions this season, including during the 1-1 draw with Bayern Munich in August when he shone on the left side of defence.
The Schalke academy graduate is thought to have a long-term admirer in United boss Van Gaal, who first showed an interest during his time in charge of Bayern between 2009 and 2011.
Howedes himself has admitted in the past that the Munich club had tried to sign him, and in August hinted that he could be interested in a move away from the Bundesliga.
"I said it before that it could be an option to play for club abroad one day," he said. "To know about a new culture and environment."
United are also continuing to monitor Howedes's team-mate Julian Draxler, who was subject of serious interest from Arsenal in the previous January transfer window.
The 21-year-old could leave the Veltins Arena in the summer, but he is not understood to feature highly on the Red Devils' list of potential targets.
Moves for midfielders Kevin Strootman, of Roma, and Sami Khedira, of Real Madrid, are more likely.
Van Gaal is a keen admirer of Strootman from their time together with the Netherlands national team, while Khedira's contract situation at the Santiago Bernabeu has piqued Premier League interest, including at Arsenal and Chelsea.
United's scouting missions in Gelsenkirchen have also lead them to right-back Atsuto Uchida. Both Howedes and Draxler missed the recent derby victory against Borussia Dortmund, and it is believed the Red Devils' representative kept tabs on the Japan international.
Current United full-back Rafael is keen to discuss new terms at Old Trafford with less than two years remaining on his current deal, and Van Gaal is yet to be convinced of the Brazilian's ability.
Uchida, however, is believed to be close to signing a new contract with Roberto Di Matteo's side.