Stoke's Ibrahim Afellay set to return from injury for Liverpool clash

Ibrahim Afellay is set to provide Stoke City with a Christmas injury boost by making his long-awaited return to the squad for the trip to Liverpool.

Afellay, 30, has been out since suffering knee ligament damage in April and has missed a total of 23 matches.

However, the midfielder returned to training in October and played 63 minutes for Stoke's under-23 side last week, and now Mark Hughes will be able to call on him for the tough festive fixtures away at second-placed Liverpool on Dec. 27 and Premier League leaders Chelsea on Dec. 31.

"Ibi played last Friday and came through the game strongly, so he is now back in the squad and available for selection,'' Hughes said at his prematch news conference.

"I am delighted he has come back as strongly as he has because he suffered a really bad injury. He looks like the old Afellay which is tremendous because usually when players come back they are a little apprehensive. I have no qualms including him now."

Afellay had been a key player for Stoke last season after joining on a free transfer from Barcelona as the club reached the League Cup semifinal and finished ninth in the Premier League.

Meanwhile, Phil Bardsley and Geoff Cameron are both a couple of weeks away from being fit again after their knee injuries, while Jack Butland looks set for a prolonged spell on the sidelines following another operation to get to the bottom of his ankle problem.

Hughes said: "Bardo is still a couple of weeks away, although he is on track. When he did the injury it was going to be between five and six weeks. Geoff is still a number of weeks away. We've had a few setbacks in terms of the initial injury but he's got a schedule which is helping him and two to three weeks and he should be back.''