RAFA BENITEZ is exploring ways to shore up Newcastle United's defence and has identified two towering centre-backs as potential replacements for Chancel Mbemba.

The Magpies are open to offers for Mbemba and there is talk of a £4m offer from Anderlecht being in the offing.

And with Benitez already clear in his mind that he wants a different option at the back, Newcastle’s recruitment team are putting in the calls to see what it would take to land their targets.

Ghanaian defender Kasim Nuhu and Italian centre-back Gian Marco Ferrari are under consideration, while Middlesbrough’s Ben Gibson has previously caught the eye of Benitez.

At this stage Nuhu and Ferrari, with Young Boys and Sassuolo respectively, are in sight. Nuhu, 22, is a 6ft 3in defender and the Swiss club would have to listen to offers in the region of around £8m for him. Reports in Ghana have suggested Huddersfield and Tottenham have also been keen.

Ferrari could also be on the move after an impressive year at Sampdoria, where he has been on loan. Sassuolo would be powerless to let him go because of an £11.5m clause, but Sampdoria would prefer not to pay that sum.

Ferrari’s performances last season earned him an Italy call and Newcastle are not the only club from the Premier League showing an interest.

Benitez is still waiting for developments on the contract front, but expects to have money to spend this summer and wants to strengthen his squad.

Ideally he would like a number of new signings on board before Newcastle start pre-season training and they have announced their schedule for this summer.

After the success of the last two years trips, the Magpies will head to Ireland again for a training camp and this time they face St Patrick’s Athletic.

They will then go to Portugal to face Porto in the Estádio do Dragão before further games on English soil against Hull City, away, and Augsburg, at St James’ Park. A friendly on August 1 that is yet to be confirmed.

Newcastle’s friendlies so far: St Patrick’s Athletic (a), Tuesday, July 17 (7.45pm); Hull City (a), Tuesday, July 24 (7.45pm); Porto (a), Saturday, July 28 (kick-off TBC); FC Augsburg (h), Saturday, August 4 (3pm); August 1, opponents TBC.