LIVERPOOL -- Everton manager Roberto Martinez has confirmed that Arouna Kone and Antolin Alcaraz are both close to making comebacks from injury.
Striker Kone will end a first-team injury absence of more than a year by starting next Thursday's Europa League match against Krasnodar.
And defender Alcaraz could be involved in the squad for Saturday's Premier League trip to Manchester City after recovering from a dislocated shoulder ahead of schedule.
Kone has not played a senior match since October 2013, after suffering knee ligament damage that required surgery.
Fears that the 31-year-old's career may be in jeopardy were dismissed by Martinez earlier this season.
And the Ivory Coast international stepped up his comeback on Monday by scoring for the club's under-21 side in a 3-2 victory over Sunderland at Goodison Park.
He is not expected to play any part when Everton visit City, but will figure the following Thursday. The Europa League meeting with Krasnodar at Goodison Park has nothing riding on it as the Toffees have already qualified as winners of Group H, while the Russian side have been eliminated.
Confirming Kone's return, Martinez said: "It's really pleasing. We've seen a big smile around the place for him. He's ready. He's ready now for the first team. He will start against Krasnodar in the Europa League game, which is a really good moment for him to start.
"We're looking forward to him making a new start to his Everton career. It's been frustrating. It's been really difficult for him to cope with an injury of that magnitude.
"Now he's back, and I think he's going to be a really important player from now until the end of the season."
Kone's rehabilitation has been a long and difficult process. He did appear to be close to a comeback after playing 80 minutes for the club's under-21 side against Chelsea on Sep. 14.
But having been named as a substitute for a Capital One Cup tie at Swansea nine days later, he complained of pain during the warm-up and embarked on an extended recovery programme.
He played 45 minutes for the under-21s as they drew 1-1 with Celtic in a Premier League under-21 International Cup match at Goodison Park on Nov. 25, and was an unused substitute for the 2-0 Europa League victory over Wolfsburg in Germany two days later.
Martinez added: "Straight away, he's going to give us something on the pitch. His hold-up play and his ability in a target man role, you don't need to be fully fit to do that.
"I think you can expect an Arouna Kone who is enjoying his football and playing a big role on the pitch without being at his very, very best. That will come with games and a bit of match fitness.
"We need to be a little bit patient with that but we understand that, because it was a long-term injury, it's going to take a few months to get back to his best level. But straight away he can help the team."
Alcaraz dislocated his shoulder during the 0-0 Premier League draw against Swansea on Nov. 1, and it was feared initially that he could be out for 12 weeks.
But his recovery time was halved when medical experts decided he did not need surgery, and Martinez said the 32-year-old Paraguay international is ahead of schedule on a comeback.
"He's probably a week ahead of the timescale we were given," Martinez added. "We assess a player day by day in terms of how they recover.
"Antolin's been progressing well. Although he wouldn't be able to play 90 minutes, he's someone who can help us. He'll be available for Saturday and that's a big boost for us."
However, Steven Naismith and James McCarthy are set to miss the City game as they are still recovering from hamstring injuries, while Darron Gibson is not yet over the sore knee he suffered playing for the Republic of Ireland against Scotland in a Euro 2016 qualifier on Nov. 14.