MANCHESTER, England – The January transfer window opens for business on Friday, and rarely has so much been at stake for teams in the lucrative English Premier League.
Lagging behind in the race for Champions League qualification, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool could be the most active of the country's major powers as they look for a strong finish to arguably the most unpredictable season in the Premier League's 24-year history.
Then there's the scramble to avoid the costliest-ever relegation from England's top division. Next season ushers in the start of the Premier League's new three-year TV deal worth a record $8 billion, and no club will want to miss out on a share of that bounty.
So, count on England being the place where most deals are done over the next month, as usual. Last January, English clubs were easily the biggest spenders, splashing out about 130 million pounds (then $213 million) to shatter the record for the season as a whole at 760 million pounds (then $1.25 billion).
Top teams operating strategic transfer plans rarely do major deals in this period. Likely targets can be ruled out of the Champions League and managers can be scared off by inflated prices.
This season could be different.
Chelsea is in 14th place, three points above the relegation zone, in the most woeful title defense that the Premier League has seen. A top new signing by caretaker coach Guus Hiddink could inspire a revival, and the striker department needs refreshing.
"The window is wide open," Hiddink said Wednesday.
Just as it will be at Man United, where Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney are the only two strikers at a club struggling to score goals. A world-class striker could make all the difference for under-pressure United manager Louis van Gaal, who is likely to add to the $375 million he's already spent in his 18 months in charge.
It is Juergen Klopp's first transfer window since becoming Liverpool manager. Will he return to his old hunting ground of Germany to bolster Liverpool's squad?
It will also be interesting to see whether Leicester, remarkably in second place after half of the Premier League campaign, splashes out to stay in the title contention. And if the team manages to keep hold of striker Jamie Vardy.
On Wednesday, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said it would be a "busy" month for his club, with a midfielder needed to solve an injury crisis.
Here is a look around the continent:
Barcelona has been unable to register new players until January because of a FIFA-imposed transfer ban, so 2015 signings Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal have spent the last six months training away from the squad.
Turan joined Barcelona from Atletico Madrid in July and is expected to reinforce the club's left flank. Vidal arrived from Sevilla and likely will be the back-up for Dani Alves at right back.
Real Madrid made a mess of trying to sign goalkeeper David de Gea from Manchester United at the end of the last transfer window and embattled club president Florentino Perez may try to make amends.
However, Spanish clubs don't usually spend big on January acquisitions and there has been no major speculation about any major signings.
In the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are likely to give up some rarely used players rather than bring in major new signings.
Bayern's situation is made more complicated by the upcoming departure of coach Pep Guardiola, so any new players would probably have to be cleared by incoming coach Carlo Ancelotti, who will try hard to stay out of the limelight and not to seem to be interfering in Guardiola's job.
Dortmund has already given up attacking midfielder Jonas Hofmann to Borussia Moenchengladbach.
Many top German coaches don't like signing new players in mid-season, considering them expensive and risky.
Defending French champion Paris Saint-Germain has fielded questions about the possible departures of Argentina forward Ezequiel Lavezzi and Italy goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu, who has played only two matches this season following the arrival of Kevin Trapp from Frankfurt.
PSG coach Laurent Blanc dismissed talk of transfers during PSG's winter training camp this week in Qatar, noting that none of his players are out of contract in January.
AP Sports Writers John Leicester in Paris and Nesha Starcevic in Frankfurt, and Associated Press writer Harold Heckle in Madrid contributed to this report.