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Ibrahim Afellay's spell on the Stoke sidelines is poised to end

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

The 30-year-old midfielder has been out since suffering knee ligament damage in April, missing a total of 23 matches.

Afellay had been a key player for Stoke last season, as the club reached a League Cup semi-final at Anfield, after joining on a free transfer from Barcelona.

He returned to training in October and played 63 minutes for the Under-23 side last week and now manager Mark Hughes will be able to call on him for the tough festive fixtures away at second-placed Liverpool on December 27 and Premier League leaders Chelsea on December 31.

"Ibi played last Friday and came through the game strongly, so he is now back in the squad and available for selection," said Hughes at his pre-match press conference on Thursday morning.

"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.``

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."

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