LONDON, Aug 1: English soccer's biggest prize could be staying in American hands. After Malcolm Glazer's Manchester United wrested the Premier League title away from Chelsea's Russian owner Roman Abramovich last season, Liverpool's Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. have opened their wallets to bring the trophy down the road to Anfield this season.

Hicks and Gillett, who own baseball and hockey franchises and bought control of Liverpool last season, have given manager Rafa Benitez the funds to make 16 new player signings since the Reds finished third last term and lost to AC Milan in the Champions League final.

Benitez has brought in Spanish star Fernando Torres, Dutch international Ryan Babel and Ukraine's Andriy Voronin to join a strikeforce which already features Dutch star Dirk Kuyt and England's Peter Crouch.

Liverpool, which won the Champions League in 2005, is now more determined than ever to win the English league for the first time since 1990 - before the Premier League began.

“The squad has improved, the manager has been backed with good money and he's spent it well and now it's time for the players to deliver,” team captain Steven Gerrard said. “The Premier League, that's the one. That's our main priority.”

Glazer, who also owns the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will be out to stop Liverpool and has given Manchester United's veteran Scottish manager Alex Ferguson millions to spend to strengthen an already impressive squad lineup.

United has finally acquired England midfielder Owen Hargreaves from Bayern Munich as well as captured Portuguese forward Nani and Brazilian Anderson. Ferguson has so far been frustrated by a contract dispute in his bid to get Argentina striker Carlos Tevez from West Ham.

“The top four have all done a bit of buying and added to their squad,” Ferguson said. “Chelsea have a big, strong squad, so you don't expect much change there and both Arsenal and Liverpool were over 20 points behind us last season. They won't want to be 20 points behind us again.”

Chelsea, with the biggest spending power of all since Abramovich bought the club three years ago, has been comparatively modest in the transfer market compared with previous years. But the Blues have still brought in Claudio Pizarro from Bayern Munich, Florent Malouda from Lyon and Tal Ben Haim from Bolton.

“Our rivals have strengthened but so have we,” Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said. “I don't think it's going to be who spends the most money who wins the league. That has never been the case. It's always been who has the fighting spirit, togetherness and which of the big players had the better season.

“Cristiano Ronaldo had a good season last year and was the main reason United won the league. This year we need two or three important players in attack to come up with the goods and that's what we'll be trying to do.”

Arsenal, which is reportedly the target of a possible takeover by American businessman Stan Kroenke, has settled for Brazilian-born Croatian striker Eduardo da Silva after reluctantly selling Thierry Henry to Barcelona.—AP



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