Once again it’s that time of year where fans wonder what African players from their team will jet off to the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). Whilst there is no denying that it is a prestigious tournament, the timing of it has sometimes angered domestic manager, where players attending could potentially miss four or five league games.
This year, the tournament takes place in Gabon and will feature numerous Premier League players although the loss for some teams will be far greater than others.
Sadio Mané will be a big miss for Jürgen Klopp’s side. After many standout performances for Southampton last season the Senegalese winger signed for Liverpool and in his first competitive game for The Reds, scored a fantastic individual goal in their 4-3 win against Arsenal. Currently, Mané is the highest scoring Liverpool player with nine goals this campaign and being without him, even just for a few games, could impact Liverpool’s title chances. Klopp will be pleased however, with the news that Philippe Coutinho is returning from an ankle injury.
Summer signing Eric Bailly has been included in the Ivory Coast squad for AFCON, leaving José Mourinho with a tough decision to make. The centre-back had been playing alongside Chris Smalling and though the two have had injury problems this season, there are signs that the pair could be a solid defensive duo. In terms of cover for Bailly, Phil Jones and Marcus Rojo would be natural replacements but Mourinho may consider Michael Carrick and Daley Blind who have both played in defence before. The Ivorian’s combination of pace and power are his best defensive assets so whoever steps in for him will have big boots to fill.
Wilfried Zaha earned two England caps in friendly games but chose to play competitively for Ivory Coast and despite playing only one game for the international team; he will be joining them in Gabon. Zaha is well known for his flair and trickery and at the age of 24, the former Manchester United man still has time to develop into a top quality winger. Sam Allardyce will be frustrated to lose one of his best players for a few games, especially as their next three games are all in the space of a week. With the quality in Palace’s squad, they should not find themselves 17th but they are because many players like Andros Townsend, Jason Puncheon and Christian Benteke are underperforming. These three now have the chance to cement a place in the Palace first team along with Loic Remy who has recently returned from injury.
West Ham Untied
The Hammers have also been underperforming lately and their 5-0 loss at home to Manchester City in the FA cup enraged West Ham fans. Many have blamed their downfall on the move away from Upton Park and Slaven Bilić is under more pressure than ever.
The turnaround that is needed won’t be helped by the loss of Andre Ayew and Cheikhou Kouyaté who have been called up for international duty. Ayew has been selected in Ghana’s squad so West Ham may become overly reliant on Andy Carroll to spearhead their attack. Cover is also needed for the hard-working, defensive midfielder Kouyaté. The Senegalese man has been excellent at restricting opposition attacks and reducing the space between defence and midfield. Hammers fans may notice Mark Noble or Pedro Obiang sitting back more and fulfilling Kouyaté’s role until he returns.
Lamine Koné could partner Eric Bailly at the heart of the Ivory Coast defence during AFCON and Sunderland will struggle without the centre back. Featuring in 17 of their 20 Premier League games so far, Koné has been a valuable defender and could help Sunderland avoid the drop. His absence will leave David Moyes with John O’Shea, Papy Djilobodji and Jason Denayer as recognised centre backs. Two other players The Black Cats will be without are Didier Ndong and Wahbi Khazri who will play for Gabon and Tunisia respectively.
Sunderland signed Ndong for £13.6 million which broke their record transfer fee but so far the Gabonese midfielder has yet to impress in the Premier League. Similarly, Khazri has been inconsistent after showing small glimpses of ability and David Moyes may look for replacements in the transfer market as well as in his squad.
The champions will also temporary lose three players during AFCON. Daniel Amartey, Islam Slimani and Riyad Mahrez have all be included in their international squads and without them, Leicester could seriously struggle to pick up points.
Claudio Ranieri’s team has not been the unstoppable force it was last season and may be involved in a relegation battle come the end of the season.
Amartey claimed the defensive midfielder role after N’Golo Kanté’s departure in the summer and the powerful Slimani has scored five goals this season. The two haven’t had an instant impact at the club but will definitely be missed by Ranieri. In saying this, losing Mahrez is the ultimate blow for The Foxes. Last year’s PFA Player of the Year has not been as influential this season, but he is still a potential match winner. As a result of the Algerian’s absence, Ranieri may give more starts to 20-year-old Demarai Gray. The English winger scored a memorable goal at Old Trafford in September but has only started three games this season, coming off the bench eleven times. The one saving grace for Leicester is that Nigeria did not qualify for this year’s AFCON otherwise it is likely that Ahmed Musa would have been absent as well.