NEWCASTLE UNITED are ready to move on French defender Florian Lejeune as Rafael Benitez looks to strengthen his defensive ranks ahead of the return to the Premier League.

The Magpies, who are also in the market for Manchester City’s Ellaquim Mangala, have already made contact with Spanish club Eibar, where Lejeune moved last summer from City for £1.2m.

The 26-year-old is under contract until 2020 but Newcastle have identified him as the powerhouse centre-back capable of beefing up the backline. He has a release clause of £8.7m but has been watched closely by Arsenal and Tottenham too.

Lejeune has been on the books of Agde, Istres, Villarreal, Brest, Girona and Manchester City before moving to Eibar, where he has impressed enough to make bigger clubs take notice.

If Newcastle can lure Lejeune and/or Mangala to Tyneside then the chances are that they will replace Grant Hanley.

Former Sunderland manager Steve Bruce is interested in ending Hanley’s frustrations at Newcastle and that move will form part of a number of departures over the next two months.

Bruce, the Aston Villa boss, is keen to add to his defensive options believing the team never really filled the hole left by Ciaran Clark when he moved to Tyneside last summer.

Hanley is available if the right offers come along, just a year after he left Blackburn in a deal worth £5.5m The centre-back struggled to start matches on a regular basis during the Championship title winning campaign because of the form of Clark and Jamaal Lascelles. He then fell behind Chancel Mbemba in the pecking order too.

Derby County are known to be interested in signing him, and now Villa have emerged as an alternative destination provided they can come up with the funds to tempt Newcastle into a sale.

Newcastle still have a policy whereby they are intent on not making a loss, so they will be looking to recoup the £5.5m transfer fee. The Villans, or the Rams, would then have to come up with a package to meet a four-year contract worth around £6m.

Benitez, the Newcastle boss, is working on adding to his squad and there has been numerous calls and tentative offers made for players already.

Mangala, Lejeune, Chelsea striker Michy Batshuayi and Napoli goalkeeper Pepe Reina are four of the names definitely on the radar.

Benitez is looking to invest heavily in his squad in the months ahead and he knows there will need to be movement in the opposite direction to bring in the sort of numbers he would like.

Hanley is one of the likeliest to leave and there will be more. Player sales are certain because Newcastle are set to lose four players at the end of their contracts.

It has emerged that Vurnon Anita and Yoan Gouffran are likely to depart as free agents at the next month, along with Sammy Ameobi and Haris Vuckic. Benitez and the club would have kept them, but they wanted longer term deals and there remains a stand-off.

Neither player is likely to have been a first team regular in the Premier League so there was a reluctance to hand them extended terms over a lengthy period. Anita and Gouffran, though, are keen to gain more security at this stage of their careers.

Newcastle have been linked with another defender. This time Werder Bremen’s Luca Caldirola, who has been sidelined with a serious knee injury, has been credited with a move to Tyneside despite interest in him from Italy.