Ballack close to Real move

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The prospect of Michael Ballack joining Real Madrid grew yesterday when his agent Michael Becker arranged to meet Emilio Butragueño, Real's director of sport, later this month.

Ballack will be available on a free transfer and with Manchester United ruling themselves out Real are favourites to sign him. Real's need is illustrated by their sixth-placing in La Liga. Tomorrow they play Seville but the big match is at the Mestella tonight.

Valencia, in third, play second-placed Osasuna. Though 10 points adrift of Barcelona - who expect a 17th successive win against struggling Athletic Bilbao tomorrow - Valencia's coach Quique Sanchez Flores said yesterday: "It is reckless to say Barcelona are already champions."

He added: "They are about to lose one of their most decisive players [Samuel Eto'o] for up to a month in the African Nations' Cup and are playing in three competitions. I don't think Barça will be able to maintain their pace."

Valencia hope to have Edu, their Brazilian midfielder, back in action next month. He has not played since signing from Arsenal in the summer after damaging knee ligaments.

In Italy Juventus are likely to stretch their nine-point lead as Milan, beaten four times away already this season, are at Roma while Juventus host Reggina. Milan yesterday signed Marcio Amoruso from Sao Paolo to replace Christian Vieri, who will make his Monaco debut today.