Dimitar Berbatov and Mahamadou Diarra return to Fulham squad for visit of Aston Villa

 

Dimitar Berbatov will return to the Fulham starting line-up against Aston Villa tomorrow and could be joined by Mahamadou Diarra after what Martin Jol described as a “miracle” recovery.

It has been an amazing turnaround for Diarra as only last month the Whites boss revealed there were fears the midfielder could be ruled out for the majority of the season.

Diarra damaged his left knee on his return from international exile with Mali and required surgery, which could have seen him miss five months had it shown a cruciate ligament problem.

Fortunately for Fulham it was the best case scenario but, even still, Jol has been surprised by the speed of recovery.

"Diarra is back," the Fulham manager said. "He is almost a miracle, you know?

"I thought it would be a bit longer, but they always said it could be three or four weeks or possibly longer.

"He needed an operation and, having said that, he is still coming back. He will be involved."

Diarra's return is one of a number of boosts for Jol, who can call upon talisman Berbatov and fellow summer signing Mladen Petric against Villa.

The pair have recovered from their respective injuries and, aside from long-term absentee Simon Davies, it leaves the Dutchman only to sweat on the fitness of Bryan Ruiz.

"Most of the players are back," Jol said. "Dimitar trained with us for the last 10 days and was good, but Bryan Ruiz is a doubt.

"He has got a little problem with his groin, but Berbatov will certainly be involved and will play. Most of them are back in contention."

Fulham will be looking to continue their sturdy start to the season tomorrow, where Steve Sidwell is likely to line up against former club Villa just months after he considered quitting football due to ongoing injury problems.

"Steve Sidwell was very good when he started with Danny Murphy in midfield," Jol said.

"He then had his problem with his hernia and came back, then needed an operation again - but he was probably not as fit as he was before.

"But from pre-season when he came back, I think he is the old Steve Sidwell so he is an important member of our squad.

"He has got a certain type of quality. We've got good footballers but he is one that is complete and good without the ball as well."

The Dutchman was also quick to heap praise on Alex Kacaniklic, who has become an increasingly important player for the west Londoners since breaking into the at the end of last season.

The 21-year-old has also impressed on the international stage, scoring for Sweden in their recent 2-1 defeat of Faroe Islands and then helping his country to a 4-4 draw in Germany - after they had trailed 4-0.

"I feel it is the same for all these youngsters," Jol said of the left winger Kacaniklic. "They need a chance.

"They are talents and of course you can be a talent when you're 25 if you don't get a chance, but I gave him this chance and I gave Kerim Frei the chance.

"We've got Kieran Richardson in that position and he created three chances and two goals for us when he came on against Southampton.

"There is good rivalry between them so we will have to wait to see who is playing tomorrow.

"Even if 'Kaca' is not in the team, he is doing well. I will help him to be a very good player but I know there is some interest in 'Kaca' - it is not very serious otherwise I would tell you."

Another Scandinavian attracting admiring glances is centre-back Brede Hangeland, whose current contract expires at the end of the season.

"There are no developments yet," Jol said. "Talks are always ongoing and [the club] were talking today with him and his manager."

PA

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