Chelsea are set to make a January move for highly-rated German defender Niklas Süle, according to ESPN FC.

The Blues are believed to be on the hunt for a centre-back when the transfer market re-opens in the new year, and have been linked with the likes of AC Milan’s Alessio Romagnoli, Burnley’s Michael Keane and Roma’s Antonio Rudiger.

But this latest report suggests that 21-year-old Hoffenfeim central defender Süle has moved to the top of Antonio Conte’s wish-list.

ESPN FC believe that the Stamford Bridge outfit are keen to bolster their backline due to the age and contract status of some of their current defenders: “Chelsea have made defensive reinforcements one of their top priorities during the next two transfer windows as they plan for the future with John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic both out of contract next summer.”

The Football Whispers Index is currently giving the prospect of Süle joining Chelsea a score of 2.9 out of five, which would suggest that, having risen from 0.2 last week, there is some momentum and substance behind the rumour.

Despite his tender years, Süle has been a mainstay of the Hoffenheim line-up for some time now, racking up 83 Bundesliga appearances since his 2013 debut.

Capped for Germany at under-16, -17, -18, -19 and -21 level before making his senior bow in August this year, it’s fair to say that the Frankfurt-born defender has been regarded as a hot prospect and monitored from his teens.

Last season, Süle was instrumental in his side’s fight against relegation. Hoffenheim sat 17th in February when manager Huub Stevens had to step down due to heart problems and Julian Nagelsmann, then still only 28, stepped in, becoming the youngest manager in Bundesliga history.

The new coach inspired immediate results as Die Kraichgauer collected 23 points from their last 14 games, rising out of the drop zone and into 16th place, one point ahead of Eintracht Frankfurt in the relegation playoff spot.

Süle played a major role in Hofenheim's change of fortunes, forming the bedrock of Nagelman’s backline, while also being trusted with the responsibility of bringing the ball forward and instigating attacking manoeuvres, as is expected of a modern centre-back.

The confidence gained by helping Hoffenheim reverse their fortunes gave the youngster the momentum to carry his excellent form into this summer’s Olympics in Rio. Süle was outstanding for Die Mannschaft as they reached the final of the tournament, before having to content themselves with a silver medal after a penalty shootout defeat to host nation Brazil.

This season, Hoffenheim remain undefeated and were even as high as third before falling back slightly to their current position of sixth; Süle’s form has once again been exemplary.

One of the key reasons behind Chelsea’s interest in Süle is the fact that he is used to playing in a back three, as that was one of the major changes that Nagelsmann implemented upon taking the reins at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena.

Often seen stepping forward into the midfield zone and contributing to Hoffenheim’s build-up play, Süle’s technical quality is perhaps the most surprising aspect of his arsenal.

Standing at a towering 6ft 5ins, it would be easy to categorise Süle as a physically imposing, brute of a defender, but that would serve to underplay his fantastic ability on the ball; he is every bit the modern centre-back.

His impressive physique certainly helps when carrying out his defensive duties, though. With a 60 percent aerial duels success rate, the 21-year-old is a powerhouse in the air. He has also made 21 interceptions and 21 tackles this season, as well as chipping in with one goal and one assist.

If Conte is determined to reduce the average age of his defensive options while improving the quality of the centre-backs at his disposal, Süle would be an astute purchase.

Bundesliga