Football: Daley wings his way towards Serie A: Italian club make their move for Villa's restless forward as Manchester United seek to regain pride

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The Independent Online
FOR ONE player, Aston Villa's Tony Daley, his part in England's rehabilitation in Europe this week may have secured a pounds 2m move to Italy. For the rest of the Premiership, particularly the handful with ambitions beyond survival, the results offered a small straw at which to clutch: Manchester United are mortal after all.

Ron Atkinson, the Villa manager, revealed yesterday that Udinese were close to meeting his asking price for the transfer-seeking Daley. The Serie A club, who have never signed a British player, made their final check on the mercurial former England winger in Tuesday's Uefa Cup match at Deportivo La Coruna and liked what they saw.

But the Birmingham-born Daley, who was 26 the day before helping his only club earn a creditable 1-1 draw in Spain, is unlikely to join Udinese immediately. Atkinson explained that although negotiations were 'near completion', Villa were insisting on a proviso that the player remained with them until after the home leg against Deportivo on 3 November.

Meanwhile, the contrast between the achievements of Villa, Norwich and Arsenal in Europe and United's disarray against Galatasaray - a week after the wretchedness of Rotterdam - has further confused the debate over the state of English football. It may also have performed the public service of preventing the title race from becoming a procession.

While Alex Ferguson's side rightly remain overwhelming favourites, and visit Everton today seven points clear at the top, their domestic challengers must have been heartened by the manner in which the unseeded Turks planted seeds of doubt about the aura of invincibility that had been developing around Giggs, Keane, Cantona et al.

United, who are again without Paul Parker (flu), may not find it easy to recapture the all-conquering mood. Their matches on Merseyside are invariably frantic, and coming off the back of a game where they had to dig deep to salvage a draw, the champions may be satisfied with a point.

The question then would be whether second-placed Norwich, fresh from Munich and the greatest result in their history, can close the gap by dispatching lowly West Ham with similar alacrity. It looks a formality, though, as Bayern discovered, Norwich's counter-attacking style is well suited to away matches. Injuries to Efan Ekoku and Mark Robins will reduce their firepower, and the homecoming victory Norfolk expects may be hard-earned.

Ian Wright, the two-goal scourge of Standard Liege, has also recovered from injury and takes his place in Arsenal's attack as they try to improve on third place at Oldham. Boundary Park was the scene of one of Wright's less appealing doubles last season, when he offered a V-sign to spectators who were barracking him and was fined pounds 1,500 for his trouble.

Liverpool's League wins since the end of August could be counted on the fingers of an offensive gesture and there would still be one to spare. It will be hard to improve on that record at Manchester City - one defeat in eight under Brian Horton - and Graeme Souness's ongoing search for new blood proves he was not fooled by the lucky win over Oldham.

The Liverpool manager appears to have drawn a blank, however, with England's third-choice goalkeeper, Tim Flowers. Southampton are not interested in his part-exchange offer, and Souness admitted on Thursday he could not match the pounds 2.4m being dangled by Blackburn. Kenny Dalglish expects to have his man next week.

Another keeper in demand is Mark Bosnich, who retains his place for Villa at home to Chelsea despite opting to represent Australia in the forthcoming World Cup double-header against Argentina. Bosnich, competing for his club place with Nigel Spink, is now waiting to hear whether the Socceroos will let him link up with them later than requested. The plan would entail his missing only one Villa game.

Ron Atkinson can be excused if his thoughts drifted back to Europe yesterday, and not only because of the Daley deal. He may also have had a wry smile over the fate of another of his successors at Atletico Madrid. Jesus Gil, Atletico's terminally intolerant president, created a 12th managerial casualty in six years by sacking Jair Pereira after seven matches. As Big Ron said of another victim: 'He must have had a bad photo-call.'

The 97th League derby between the Sheffield clubs at Bramall Lane finds both uncomfortably close to the relegation zone and, somewhat less surprisingly, busy in the transfer market yesterday. United agreed a pounds 100,000 fee for Craig Whitington, a 22-year-old striker with Crawley Town, while Wednesday created a vacancy by allowing full-back Phil King to join Notts County on loan.

As an ex-Swindon player, King will take more than a passing interest in his old team's result at Tottenham. What should be a stylish match will certainly be an incestuous occasion, with both managers, Ossie Ardiles and John Gorman, as well as numerous players on either side, up against their former club.

In the First Division, Stoke's short trip to Wolves, where they have not won in 13 matches, looks like being Lou Macari's swan-song. Two other notable derbies pit resurgent Leicester against faltering Nottingham Forest tomorrow, and, confirming that the North-west is blessed, today's top-of-the-Third confrontation on the Deepdale plastic between Preston and Rochdale.

Joe Lovejoy talks to Bryan Robson,

Football Diary, Team news,

World Cup round-up

Tranmere held, page 28