Gerard Pique Barcelona
Barcelona defender Gerard Pique is part of a three-man list made by Manchester United manager Louis Van GaalReuters

Manchester United  manager Louis Van Gaal has shortlisted three central defenders that he wants to have a crack at signing during the January transfer window.

Van Gaal is widely expected to sign an experienced centre-back in January, considering the injury list at the club and the fact that Manchester United have looked shaky at the back.

Several names have been linked with a move to Old Trafford, but the Manchester United manager has now zeroed in on three names – Gerard Pique, Raphael Varane and Ron Vlaar – according to the Daily Star.

Pique has lost his place in the starting lineup at Barcelona, with the former Manchester United defender no longer one of the first names on the teamsheet.

That has inevitably led to suggestions of a move away from the Camp Nou, with Manchester United thought to be one of the likeliest destinations.

Pique, who has also been linked with a move to Chelsea , recently came out and insisted his future is still at Barcelona, but Van Gaal is ready to make a £20 million offer for the Spain international, with the 27-year-old seen as the Dutchman's number one choice.

The second on the Manchester United central defensive shortlist is Real Madrid centre-back Varane. The Frenchman, like Pique, is reportedly unhappy with his playing time at Real Madrid, with Carlo Ancelotti continuing to prefer Pepe and Sergio Ramos at the heart of the European champions' defence.

That has led to reports suggesting Varane could switch to the Premier League, with Manchester United and Chelsea, again, the frontrunners.

Ironically, Pepe, the man keeping Varane out of the starting lineup, was recently linked with a move to Manchester United as well, but Van Gaal has identified Varane as the better option.

The 21-year-old is seen as one of the brightest centre-backs in the game, and Van Gaal has a reputation of working extremely well with young players, making it a possible match made in heaven.

However, such is the talent of Varane, that Manchester United will have to stump up a considerable fee to prise him away from Real Madrid.

The final player on Van Gaal's "we need a centre-back in January" shortlist is Vlaar, who has been heavily linked with a move to Manchester United for quite a while now.

Vlaar, who is also being targeted by Arsenal , will be available on a free transfer in the summer as he is yet to sign a new contract with Aston Villa. That also means that Van Gaal can get the defender, who he worked with in the Netherlands national team, on the cheap in the January transfer window.