NEWCASTLE United will step up their pursuit of Marseille striker Loic Remy after Demba Ba's representatives met with Chelsea officials last night to discuss a proposed January move to Stamford Bridge.
The Magpies, who slumped to an embarrassing 7-3 defeat at Arsenal on Saturday, have agreed a £5.5m deal with Lille for Mathieu Debuchy, and the France international will travel to Tyneside later this week to undergo a medical and discuss personal terms.
However, the positive transfer development was overshadowed by confirmation of Ba's likely departure, with Newcastle's leading goalscorer seemingly intent on leaving St James' Park next month.
Chelsea has emerged as his preferred destination, and last night's discussions were arranged when the Stamford Bridge club confirmed their willingness to meet Ba's £7.5m release clause when the transfer window officially reopens tomorrow.
At this stage, there has been no formal offer to Newcastle officials, although the well-publicised terms of Ba's buy-out clause means the Chelsea hierarchy know exactly what it will take to prise the Senegal international from St James'.
Last night's talks were aimed at agreeing a draft set of personal terms, with Ba's representatives understood to be demanding around £80,000-a-week, while Chelsea's negotiating team were keen to cover themselves in the event of the striker breaking down through injury.
Ba failed a medical on his knee at Stoke City prior to moving to West Ham United, and a number of clubs are reluctant to offer the 27-year-old a long-term deal without a degree of protection.
Chelsea are not the only club to have been sounded out by Ba's representatives in recent weeks, but the reigning European champions are keen to recruit at least one new striker to replace Daniel Sturridge, who is on the verge of joining Liverpool.
Ba's 13 goals already this season make him an appealing candidate, and while Alan Pardew spoke bullishly about the prospect of the African remaining with Newcastle earlier this week, the Magpies manager has been lining up possible alternatives of his own for a while now.
Remy, a 25-year-old France international, tops his wanted list, and preliminary talks have already taken place with senior Marseille officials.
Remy is valued at around £10m, but Tottenham, West Ham and Schalke have also been linked with his services and Newcastle will be keen to move quickly if Ba's departure is confirmed.
They have already finalised one January transfer, with Debuchy having agreed to leave Lille after a proposed switch to the North-East collapsed in the summer.
Newcastle thought they had signed the right-back prior to the European Championships, only for Lille to raise their asking price on two separate occasions.
After a series of increasingly fractious discussions, Newcastle withdrew their interest, but a failure to agree a new deal with Danny Simpson increased the need for a new full-back next month.
Debuchy will travel to England in the second half of this week, and provided there are no problems with a medical or personal terms, a £5.5m switch should be confirmed before the weekend.
The 27-year-old's arrival will effectively signal the end of Simpson's Newcastle career, with Fulham leading the chase for a player who turned down the Magpies' final contract offer of around £28,000-a-week.
Simpson was one of the Magpies' worst-performing players as they capitulated to an embarrassing defeat at the Emirates, with the 7-3 reverse leaving Pardew's side just three points clear of the relegation zone ahead of Wednesday's crucial home game with Everton.
Arsenal scored six goals in the space of 39 second-half minutes as Newcastle imploded, and Pardew accepts his side have dropped into deep trouble close to the foot of the Premier League table.
“I've never looked away from the bottom if I'm honest, and I think every Premier League manager outside of the top four or five clubs who doesn't look at 40 points first is telling a fib,” said the Newcastle boss, whose side are still to claim a single away victory this season.
“You need to look at that first, and we're still 20 points short at the moment so we've got a bit to do. Of course I'm confident that we will get out of it.
“We have good players to come back and we're going to make an impact somewhere in this league at some point. But we don't want to leave it too late and my priority is to get the best team out on the pitch as soon as I can.”
That process will be aided by Debuchy's arrival, with Pardew admitting that a lack of defensive options has contributed to the concession of 11 goals in the space of two matches against Manchester United and Arsenal.
“Without Steven Taylor and Ryan Taylor, we're weak,” said Pardew. “We haven't got those options that we should have at this level. We didn't really have enough defensive players on the bench to try to shore it up (on Saturday). That was an issue.”