The big game this weekend in the Premiership sees leaders Liverpool take on surprise package Tottenham, who lie third, at Anfield.
And Saturday’s game could bring a poignant reunion for two of the opposing players. Spurs’ cruciate ligament victim Steffen Freund shared a rehabilitation centre with fellow Liverpool’s German defender Markus Babbel, back in their homeland this summer.
Twnety nine year-old Babbel was struck down by Guillan-Barre Syndrome – a life-threatening virus that affects the nervous system – last August and there were fears not only for hiscareer but allso his life.
“It was a shock to see him, a friend, a footballer, in a wheelchair,” reveals Freund.
“He was so ill overnight, maybe he could have been finished with football, maybe he could die even, all that to a person so young.”
But Babbel has battled back, and after making the bench in last Saturday’s win at Leeds, plus 63 minutes for the reserves on Thursday, the former Bayern Munich man is in the squad too face Tottenham.
Despite being on opposing sides come Saturday, Freund is hoping his friend will get a slice of the action.
“It is wonderful to see him back in the squad. It would be nice to see Markus out there because we had a bad time together,” revealed the combative midfielder. “Now we are back, for both of us, it will be special day.”
Meanwhile Freund’s team-mate Jamie Redknapp is relishing Saturday’s trip to his former club. Redknapp, still a firm favourite with staff, players and fans alike at Anfield, is thrilled at the prospect of running out in front of the Kop again.
“I had some great times up there and I feel very lucky to have played for them,” he said. “I’m sure I will get a good reception when I return because I never caused any fuss while I was there.”
Even though Spurs have made a very impressive start to the season, Redknapp believes that they can only get better, especially once the club’s injured players return to the fold. The White Hart Lane club had to contend with a terrible succession of injuries at the start of the season, and at one point 13 player were ruled out.
“The time to judge us is when all the injured playersare fit,'” he insisted. “It is a tremendous achievement for us to be third after 10 games without some of those players.”
Spurs are likely to be unchanged, with the returning Les Ferdinand on the bench. Liverpool, still without Stephane Henchoz, welcome back Steven Gerrard.
Liverpool: Dudek; Carragher, Hyypia, Traore, Riise; Murphy, Gerrard, Hamann, Heskey; Owen, Baros.
Spurs: Keller, Carr, Perry, Bunjevcevic, Richards, Etherington, Davies, Redknapp, Freund, Sheringham, Keane.
Meanwhile, Arsenal look to bounce back after two defeats in a week, at home to Blackburn. The Gunners lost their 30 match unbeaten Premiership record at Everton last Saturday, and were also beaten by Auxerre in the Champions League on Tuesday.
But the champions’ sudden dip in form has not stopped an extremely noteworthy source from talking up their chances of glory this season.
Dutch legend Marco Van Basten is currently visiting the club and said: “I think Arsenal Football Club have a very good side and this season have a great opportunity to win something.
“Although I think Real Madrid are the Champions League favourites, Arsenal definitely have the chance to progress to much further in the latter stages,’he added.
Robert Pires could be in contention for the home side after scoring for the reserves on Thursday, a gamethat also marked the return of Giovanni van Bronkhurst, after he injured cruciate knee ligaments in February.
Blackburn, on a high after trouncing Newcastle 5-2 last week, are without striker Andy Cole (hamstring), and winger Keith Gillespie is wary of a Gunners backlash.
“We have to expect that they will really be fired up for this tomorrow, it is probably not the ideal time to face them,” he said.
Elsewhere Manchester United are boosted by the return of Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Rio Ferdinand for the visit of Aston Villa and under-pressure boss Graham Taylor, while Howard Wilkinson will be looking for his first win as Sunderland boss in Monday night’s relegation clash at Bolton.
Birmingham v Manchester City
Liverpool v Tottenham
Middlesborough v Leeds
Southampton v Fulham
Bolton v Sunderland