Chelsea set to spend as transfer window opens

January 1, 2007

LONDON, Jan 1 (Reuters) - Premiership chairmen can expect an early morning phone call on Monday from managers reeling off their list of transfer window targets.

Newspapers have been full of rumour and speculation and as a frenetic holiday period concludes with a fourth match in 10 days, many squads are creaking under the strain.

Chelsea are expected to lead the spending to plug a leaky defence that is in danger of scuppering their bid for a hat-trick of titles.

With goalkeeper Petr Cech and defender John Terry both still on the way back to fitness after head and back injuries, the champions have conceded eight goals in their last four games and consecutive 2-2 draws at home to Reading and Fulham have left them six points behind leaders Manchester United.

Defenders are the obvious priority for Jose Mourinho and among the players linked with a move to Stamford Bridge are Portsmouth's Sol Campbell, Birmingham's Matthew Upson and Manchester City teenager Micah Richards.

United boss Alex Ferguson knows his side's lead could evaporate with key injuries and could bolster his squad by bringing in Bayern Munich's Owen Hargreaves.

Liverpool are said to be close to signing Blackburn Rovers defender Lucas Neill with striker Peter Crouch, frustrated by his limited opportunities at Anfield, possibly heading to injury-hit Newcastle United.

Although the window swings open on Monday, past seasons suggest that managers will not rush in.

Like in the English housing market, deals can involve complicated chains with one club only willing to sell if the player they have targeted becomes available. Seemingly 'done deals' often fall through at the last moment.

Often the busiest managers are those involved in the battle for survival. Last year, Portsmouth's Harry Redknapp virtually rebuilt his side in January and the gamble paid off as Pompey dragged themselves out of the mire to stay up.

West Ham United's new owner Eggert Magnusson says funds are available and manager Alan Curbishley could be a busy man in the next few weeks as he tries to haul the Hammers away from the relegation zone.

Chelsea misfit Shaun Wright Phillips is a top priority for Curbishley, although his former club Manchester City are also keen to take him back.

Curbishley could also go for Charlton Athletic striker Darren Bent but Alan Pardew would fight any such move, having just taken over at the relegation battlers after being fired by Magnusson at West Ham.

Middlesbrough, just outside the bottom three, have problems at both ends and Manchester City's defender Sylvain Distin is a reported target for manager Gareth Southgate.

The cream of young English talent from the lower leagues also comes under scrutiny at this time of year with managers in the second division probably reluctant to answer the phone.

Southampton boss George Burley can expect several offers for 17-year-old defender Gareth Bale, while Derby County's midfielder Giles Barnes and Southend United striker Freddy Eastwood will both be in demand.

Preston North End's David Nugent may also get the chance to demonstrate his goalscoring talents at the top level, with Portsmouth and Sheffield United reported to be in the queue for his signature.