December 22, 2016 / 10:16 AM / a year ago

Stoke hoping to leave top-two nursing festive hangovers

(Reuters) - Stoke City manager Mark Hughes hopes to end the year on a high as the side prepare for trips to the Premier League’s top-two teams boosted by the return of winger Ibrahim Afellay.

Stoke are 11th in the table after 17 games and travel to second-placed Liverpool on Tuesday before facing leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge four days later.

“We are under no illusions as to how good they both are and how difficult the matches will be for us,” Hughes told reporters on Thursday.

“We have to go into the games with real belief, we had that last season, and we will give it a go this time round too. Not many people are thinking we have a chance of gaining positive results but that certainly isn’t the case within our camp.”

Dutchman Afellay has been named in the Stoke squad for the first time in eight months after finally recovering from knee ligament damage sustained in April.

“He (Afellay) is back in the squad and available for selection,” Hughes added.

Liverpool are searching for their first league title since 1990 and Hughes credited his counterpart Juergen Klopp for instilling a renewed sense of belief at the Merseyside club.

“Juergen has maybe given them a belief that they can take that final step and really challenge for the title,” Hughes said.

“He is enthusiastic and a big character, and Liverpool fans have really warmed to him. They appear to be a positive club again and Juergen is a big part of that.”

Joe Allen will return to Liverpool for the first time since being sold to Stoke during the close season and Hughes expects the Anfield faithful to give the Welsh midfielder a warm welcome.

“He (Allen) has nothing to prove though in fairness, I know that he was appreciated there by supporters and players alike,” the manager added.

“I would expect him to receive a tremendous reception.”

Reporting by Shravanth Vijayakumar in Bengaluru

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