Everton boss Roberto Martinez says Antolin Alcaraz is finally ready to put an injury nightmare behind him and make his return against Chelsea this Saturday.
Alcaraz, 31, has been restricted to just four appearances for the club since arriving on a free transfer from Wigan Athletic last June
The centre-back sustained a groin injury in preseason, and had to wait until December to make his Everton debut, before suffering a further setback in early January when he was struck down with muscle fatigue.
An attempted comeback against Liverpool in the Premier League on Jan. 28 lasted just the one game, and he has not played since.
But Martinez told the Liverpool Echo: “Antolin is fully fit now and it is just about making sure we give him the right introduction back into the team. I never wanted for him to play three games in a week when he came back from injury and that set him back a little bit.
“But he is fully fit now, he is working with the team and it is a fantastic time in the season to have Antolin back, alongside the other centre-halves. To have Antolin alongside Sylvain Distin, Phil Jagielka and John Stones is as good as it gets really.”
Alcaraz made his Everton debut in the Premier League against Southampton on Dec. 29, then faced Stoke three days later before playing in the FA Cup victory over QPR on Jan. 4.
That run of three matches in seven days, forced in part by injuries to fellow centre-backs Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka, was not ideal, Martinez admitted.
“When you come back from injury you can’t expect to be out for six months and then play three games with intensity that you need in the British game, all in the space of a week,” Martinez said. “That was needed because of the circumstances and injuries we had in the side.
"Antolin is the type of player that will give his all for the team and football club and then think about himself later. I could not be more proud of his approach and the way he has put himself up for the challenge ahead. Now it is a matter of controlling the input and making sure he finishes the season clear of injuries and strong.”
The Paraguay international also truggled with injuries at Wigan last season, with a groin problem sustained in September 2012 keeping him out until the following February, and a torn hamstring forcing him to miss a chunk of the run-in as the club were relegated from the Premier League.
And Martinez added: “If you look into it, there has been the same problem as last season. He is a player that when 90 percent fit he declares himself ready and this is a situation where we need to help him get to 100 percent.
“I do feel now that he is over his problems and I think we are on the right path now and have a clear understanding of what Antolin needs for a clear run back into the team.”
Steven Naismith is also set to be available for the trip to Chelsea, having recovered from a bout of concussion sustained during last Sunday’s 3-1 FA Cup fifth-round win over Swansea.
Striker Romelu Lukaku, who is recovering from an ankle problem, will not be involved at Stamford Bridge, as he is on loan from Chelsea and is not allowed to face his parent club.