Sun, Jan 01, 2006 - Page 22 News List

Europeans look to upgrade as transfer window opens


The title races in England, Italy, Germany and France are virtually over halfway through the season, while longtime leader Barcelona shows no sign of slumping in Spain.

The monthlong transfer window opens tomorrow, and only some shrewd player purchases can possibly spark a second half shake-up to what has been a predictable season.

So far, the signs aren't good.

Already 11 points clear at the top of the English Premier League, defending champion Chelsea aims to strengthen an already powerful squad by signing Portugal midfielder Maniche from Dynamo Moscow.

Maniche played for FC Porto when it won the UEFA Cup and Champions League under Jose Mourinho.

Now at Chelsea, Mourinho hopes to sign Maniche on a six-month loan deal with an option for a permanent deal.

With billionaire Russian Roman Abramovich its owner, Chelsea could buy almost anyone. But Mourinho won't want to disrupt his team, which is also going strong in the Champions League.

Lyon, which has a 12-point advantage in France; Juventus, which is eight points ahead in Italy; and Bayern Munich, which is six points up in Germany going into the midwinter break; are similarly well placed.

Barcelona is only two points ahead in the Spanish league, but a club record streak of 13 victories in domestic and Champions League games suggest Frank Rijkaard's defending champion will be tough to top.

Barca's veteran striker, Henrik Larsson, looks like moving back to Sweden after the World Cup. Rijkaard is likely to keep much the same squad for the rest of the season, although Italian news reports say he is chasing Fiorentina striker Luca Toni.

There may be more activity from teams which are chasing the leaders.

Real Madrid has snapped up Brazil rightback Cicinho from Club World Cup champion Sao Paulo. Madrid already has Brazilians Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Julio Baptista and Robinho on its roster.

Manchester United, second in the Premier League but eliminated from the Champions League, is on the verge of signing Serbian defender Nemanja Vidic from Spartak Moscow.

The Red Devils, though, have cooled their interest in Michael Ballack from Bayern Munich.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who says he's happy with his squad, has been linked with AS Roma midfielder Olivier Dacourt with Patrick Vieira not being adequately replaced since departing in July. Dacourt has had Premier League experience with Everton and Leeds.

Champions League holder Liverpool, buoyed by a streak of nine straight domestic victories, has agreed a deal with Villarreal to swap Netherlands rightback Jan Kromkamp for Josemi.

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