REAL MADRID have identified David de Gea as a potential long-term successor to Iker Casillas amid claims in Spain that the Manchester United goalkeeper is unhappy at Old Trafford and keen to return to La Liga.
De Gea, an £18.3m buy from Atletico Madrid in the summer of 2011, is likely to have to settle for place on the bench for United's Champions League tie against SC Braga at Old Trafford tonight.
The 21-year-old has yet to consolidate the No 1 jersey at United following a difficult start to life in the English game, having been signed as a youthful replacement for Edwin van der Sar following the Dutch goalkeeper's retirement at the end of the 2010-11 campaign.
The Spain U-21 'keeper was dropped by Alex Ferguson at the turn of the year following an unconvincing performance in a 3-2 Old Trafford defeat against Blackburn, and De Gea lost his place again at the start of this season when he was replaced by Anders Lindegaard in the wake of a poor performance against Fulham in August.
While Ferguson and United's goalkeeping coach, Eric Steele, remain convinced of De Gea's ability and long-term potential, Real have been made aware of the Madrid-born youngster's struggle to adapt to life in Manchester and the Premier League.
De Gea's girlfriend, Spanish pop star Edurne Garcia Almagro, continues to travel between Madrid and Manchester and, while the player has been restored to the first team in recent games, Lindegaard's performances have placed increased pressure on him.
Suggestions in Spain that De Gea has informed his agent, Jorge Mendes, of his desire to return to Spanish football are unconfirmed, but Real are determined to recruit an emerging young goalkeeper to challenge Casillas at the Bernabeu.
Despite his difficulties at United, De Gea's reputation remains high in Spain, where he is expected to eventually replace the 31-year-old Casillas in the national team.
Ferguson, meanwhile, is ready to rest key players against Braga as United attempt to move closer to qualification for the knock-out stages at the same time as preparing for Sunday's Premier League clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra will not be involved against the Portuguese club, with Scott Wootton and Alex Buttner expected to play in their place tonight.
A victory will move United onto nine points at the halfway stage of the group and all but confirm qualification for the next round, but Ferguson insists he is not taking Braga lightly by resting players.
"We kept players back (against Stoke) who have been playing well, such as Tom Cleverley and Shinji Kagawa, to play this game, so I wouldn't call that underestimating Braga," Ferguson said.
"Braga, to my mind, are better away from home and they showed that by beating Galatasaray in their last game. It's not easy going to Turkey.
"In the modern European game, counter-attack is the issue, so hopefully we can deal with that tonight."
Ferguson admits he is pondering a tactical change against Braga, with United eschewing their tradition of operating with wingers in favour of a diamond formation.
"We have had some success playing with the diamond." Ferguson said.
"The history of the club is always to play with wide players, particularly at Old Trafford, so I have a decision to make. We have Ashley Young back and he will be involved, and I have Nani, (Antonio) Valencia, (Ryan) Giggs, plenty of wide players.
"We also have plenty of central midfielders, so I have an issue in terms of picking the team and even the substitutes."
Defender Chris Smalling will miss out, however, with Ferguson admitting his broken metatarsal injury, sustained in July, has yet to recover sufficiently for him to return to contention.
Manchester United v Braga
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