Stones 'could come back stronger'
Roberto Martinez thinks John Stones' injury absence could prove to be a blessing in disguise for the young defender.
The 20-year-old damaged ankle ligaments in Everton's defeat to Manchester United on October 5 and needed surgery but is now back training and in contention for a place in the squad for Monday's game against QPR.
Boss Martinez said: "He is ahead of schedule, probably two or three weeks, but I would expect that.
"He's such a quick healer and he hasn't stopped for one second trying to win those small margins to get back early.
"He's trained once with the team and he came through that really well. Now it's just a matter of making a good measurement of allowing him to be involved into a competitive game at the right time.
"I'm really pleased with his comeback."
Stones joined Everton from Barnsley nearly two years ago and has made rapid progress with club and country.
He made his first England starts in September, meaning the injury was particularly cruel, but Martinez thinks the break will give him a better chance of maintaining his form over the whole season.
"John is desperate to get back onto the pitch," said the Spaniard. "I know he doesn't want to hear this but I said to him maybe it's a perfect way for him to divide his season into two clear spells.
"I thought he started the season really well. Sometimes at that age it's difficult to maintain your level for 10 months.
"Now he's got a clear period from January until the end of season to try to, if anything, step up the level.
"He's ready to do that. He's a phenomenal character and we all know he's an impressive footballer. It's great to have him fully fit and ready to participate."
James McCarthy, Steven Naismith and Darron Gibson are also in contention for QPR after short-term injuries but Gareth Barry is suspended.
The midfielder was the only first-choice player to feature in Thursday's Europa League dead rubber against Krasnodar.
Martinez gave debuts to four teenagers, with England Under-18 captain Ryan Ledson starting in midfield and the likes of Conor McAleny, Luke Garbutt and Tyias Browning also gaining valuable experience.
Ledson stood out for the maturity of his performance and Martinez feels he now has a better idea of how far away each player is from possible first-team involvement on a regular basis.
"It's very much individual," he said. "I think I know now exactly what these young players need to get close to fulfilling their potential.
"I was impressed with Ryan Ledson. I thought in the second half we saw an arrogant young man with incredible technical ability.
"I think he's got a terrific future and we're going to help him to try to develop.
"There's a couple of players who I feel need to play week in, week out in the league and maybe a couple of loan periods will be what they need.
"And then we've got another two or three players that I feel are ready to participate in the first team and really try to fight for their place."
Stones and Ross Barkley are the latest in a long line of young Everton players given a chance at the highest level, and Martinez said: "That's part of what we are as a football club.
"I'm very happy with the work that we're doing in the academy and at the Under-21 level and we're going to put in a lot of work to make sure that the youngsters get an opportunity.
"It's not about thinking that they're ready or not, we need to make sure that they get enough experience to be ready and then it's down to them to make that step into the first-team dressing room.
"But you're looking at the talent that we have and it's really exciting for the future."