The loss of players to the African Cup Of Nations is always a bone of contention for managers and in the early months of 2017, Africa’s continental tournament is back again – this time staged in Gabon.
Once more, many players will be whisked away for an uncertain amount of time, during which they could suffer injuries, a dip in form or fatigue.
Early elimination can allow players to return to their clubs quicker, while progressing to the latter stages could see some missing for almost a month. The tournament begins on January 14 and, with the final in Libreville on February 5, bosses would welcome their players crashing out early.
Although the squads are yet to be named, here are the players who could be missing for each club.
FOUR PLAYERS ABSENT
LEICESTER CITY: Riyad Mahrez (Algeria), Islam Slimani (Algeria), Jeffrey Schlupp (Ghana), Daniel Amartey (Ghana)
Although Leicester won’t be losing Ahmed Musa this winter, their squad will take one of the hardest hits when the African Cup of Nations comes around. Record signing Islam Slimani has started excellently for the Foxes, while 2015-16’s best Premier League player and Algeria team-mate Riyad Mahrez, will also be sorely missed.
Jeffrey Schlupp’s departure to Africa will only be a concern should injuries limit Claudio Ranieri’s other options on the left flank, while Daniel Amartey’s departure takes away one of the Foxes’ most versatile squad members, which could be cause for concern after the hectic Christmas schedule.
Mahrez buteur sur penalty ! pic.twitter.com/g1SdbvYYpY— 213% Fennecs (@213_Fennecs) November 19, 2016
SUNDERLAND: Wahbi Khazri (Tunisia), Lamine Kone (Ivory Coast), Papy Djilobodji (Senegal), Didier Ndong (Gabon)
Sunderland are embroiled in a relegation battle this season and losing four of their players could be pivotal in their annual fight for safety. Central defenders Lamine Kone and Papy Djilobodji have been the first choice partnership, which will leave a gaping hole at the heart of the Black Cats’ defence.
Summer signing Didier Ndong has been one of the few bright sparks for David Moyes’ side to date, while Wahbi Khazri is one of the few players capable of creating clear-cut opportunities. With the weakness of the current Wearsiders squad, the departures of these four will surely force the club into the January market.
WEST HAM: Cheikhou Kouyate (Senegal), Diafra Sakho (Senegal), Sofiane Feghouli (Algeria), Andre Ayew (Ghana)
West Ham will be weakened significantly by AFCON. Kouyate is used in various roles by Slaven Bilic, Sofiane Feghouli – despite struggling initially – was a summer coup and Andre Ayew, having just returned to fitness, will disappear for the tournament as well. A busy summer transfer window, however, should ensure that West Ham will not be crippled by the loss of their four players.
THREE PLAYERS ABSENT
EVERTON: Yannick Bolasie (Congo DR), Idrissa Gueye (Senegal), Oumar Niasse (uncertain, Senegal)
Losing Niasse probably isn’t Ronald Koeman’s greatest concern, but the departures of Bolasie and Gueye will weigh heavy on his mind. Gueye is the symbol of Koeman’s Everton side this season and has been phenomenal for much of the campaign, while the loss of their greatest summer investment, Bolasie, leaves a hole on the flank.
STOKE CITY: Wilfried Bony (Ivory Coast), Mame Diouf (Senegal), Ramadan Sobhi (Egypt)
Losing his two first-choice strikers may force Mark Hughes to use Peter Crouch or Jonathan Walters up top and while Ramadan Sobhi is only a squad player currently, he could be key if Xherdan Shaqiri has more injury troubles later in the campaign. Losing three offensive options could force Hughes into action in January.
TWO PLAYERS ABSENT
CRYSTAL PALACE: Bakary Sako (Mali), Pape Souare (Senegal)
The arrivals of Andros Townsend and Christian Benteke should make the loss of Bakary Sako far less keenly felt than may have been last season. In fact, unless injuries stifle the current attacking options Alan Pardew has in the final third, losing Sako will be a minor inconvenience. The potential unavailability of Souare is something Pardew will be accustomed to after his lengthy lay-off.
LIVERPOOL: Sadio Mane (Senegal), Joel Matip (Cameroon)
Sadio Mane has epitomised the improvement of Liverpool offensively this season with his surging runs behind opposition defences and Joel Matip has been a calming influence on Jurgen Klopp’s previously flaky defence. The departures of Matip and Mane are sure to be detrimental to their squad, with Klopp harbouring some hope that Cameroon opt not to call up Matip.
WATFORD: Nordin Amrabat (Morocco), Adlene Guedioura (Algeria)
The arrival of Roberto Pererya has seen Adlene Guedioura left on the bench for the most part this season, but the loss of Nordin Amrabat will hurt Walter Mazzarri’s side. Amrabat has played either as a wing-back or in the front three and his departure could leave the side imbalanced. However, Mazzarri will be delighted that there is no risk of losing Nigerian pair, Isaac Success and Odion Ighalo after the Super Eagles’ failure to qualify.
ONE PLAYER ABSENT
ARSENAL: Mohamed Elneny (Egypt)
Arsenal, like many clubs, benefited from Nigeria’s failure to qualify, as it will allow them to retain Alex Iwobi. Although Mohamed Elneny’s departure will lessen their midfield depth, it is unlikely to stretch the squad too significantly.
BOURNEMOUTH: Max Gradel (Ivory Coast)
The attacking depth that Eddie Howe has at his disposal has seen Max Gradel used as an impact substitute in the league this season. His pace from the bench will be missed, yet it is unlikely to be too harmful with all the options Howe currently has.
HULL: Ahmed Elmohamady (Egypt)
Despite not featuring during their qualifying campaign, Ahmed Elmohamady could be called up to the Egypt side. A key player for Hull at right-back or in a wing-back role, a shock call-up would create further turmoil.
Manchester United: Eric Bailly (Ivory Coast)
Eric Bailly’s injury means he may be just about returning to full fitness in time to be whisked away to Gabon. Jose Mourinho won’t like it and Manchester United may be forced into the January market to find a short-term replacement.
SOUTHAMPTON: Sofiane Boufal (Morocco)
With only two caps so far, Sofiane Boufal’s AFCON fate is a relative unknown. The Saints have depth in forward positions though, so losing their summer signing will not be too concerning.
WEST BROM: Allan Nyom (Cameroon)
Of all of their summer signings to lose this winter, Allan Nyom is probably the least meaningful for Tony Pulis. The former Stoke boss has no issues with using makeshift full-backs, meaning he should cope with Nyom’s jaunt to Africa just fine.
BURNLEY – Their tight knit squad won’t be losing anyone to Africa this winter and that could make all the difference in their fight against relegation.
CHELSEA – John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses will not be leaving Stamford Bridge for Gabon, with Chelsea on the list of Premier League clubs delighted at Nigeria’s failure.
MANCHESTER CITY – Another team glad that Nigeria failed to qualify, as Kelechi Iheanacho remains at the club.
SWANSEA – Bob Bradley can cross replacing AFCON players off his to-do list. Modou Barrow was the only player at risk and Gambia failed to qualify.
TOTTENHAM – Victor Wanyama’s Kenya were not even close to qualification, meaning Mauricio Pochettino will have no absentees to deal with.