When a top-level football club is scouting new players to sign, some variables are synonymous in their search. The player’s ability and/or potential, their personality, injury record, asking price vs value and so on.
Rarely featuring on the radar is their likelihood of missing games due to their international commitments, but every other year that raises its head when the Africa Cup of Nations, the biennial tournament held in January and February, is contested.
In 2024, there’s a double-whammy for club managers to consider, with AFCON taking place concurrently with the Asian Cup, which will see some Premier League sides (and those outside of the EPL) decimated by absentees.
But who will be the hardest hit?
Mo Salah, Mo Problem
There are those critics who believe that Mo Salah is past his best these days, but with 19 goal involvements in as many Premier League games so far this term, he remains the most vital attacking player available to Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool.
But here comes the bad news: Salah will be flying out to the Ivory Coast to represent Egypt at AFCON.
The tournament gets underway on January 13, running through until the final on February 11. Egypt are the fifth favourites to lift the trophy, which if an accurate prediction means that they could bow out at the quarter-final stage.
If they do, Salah’s last game would be on February 3, giving him an almighty race to be back in time for Liverpool’s huge clash with Arsenal the very next day.
With that timeline, the Egyptian will also miss Liverpool’s Premier League outings against Chelsea and Bournemouth, as well as third and fourth rounds games in the FA Cup and both legs of their Carabao Cup semi-final against Fulham.
If Egypt go all the way to the final, Salah could also miss the Premier League date with Burnley.
All of which could hand a huge advantage to Manchester City, who won’t be losing any players to AFCON or the Asian Cup.
Gunners Blaze On as Spurs Suffer
The battle for supremacy in North London could hinge on a pivotal set of games in January and February – a window in which Tottenham look set to be hit hard by absences.
They will be without top goalscorer Son Heung-min, who will be a key figure in South Korea’s bid to win the Asian Cup. If his side does go all the way to the final, Son will miss four Premier League games, including dicey clashes with the likes of Brighton, Manchester United and Everton.
Arsenal will be feeling rather more chipper about things. Yes they will lose Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny to Afcon and Takehiro Tomiyasu to the Asian Cup, but none of that trio can be considered central to Mikel Arteta at the Emirates Stadium.
The award for the Premier League club most inconvenienced by AFCON surely goes to Nottingham Forest, who could be without SIX first-team regulars for the duration of the tournament.
The Tricky Trees are in danger of being sucked into a relegation battle given Luton’s improved form, and they will have to make do for much of January and some of February without Willy Boly, considered by some to be their player of the season thus far, Ola Aina, Serge Aurier, Ibrahima Sangare, Cheikhou Kouyate and Moussa Niakhate.
Brentford (Saman Ghoddos, Kim Ji-soo, Frank Onyeka and Yoane Wissa) and Wolves (Justin Hubner, Rayan Ait-Nouri, Boubacar Traore and Hwang Hee-chan) will both lose four players overseas. Hwang had scored 37% of Wolves’ EPL goals this term at the time of writing, so his loss in particular will be cruelly felt at Molineux.
West Ham, who have been getting better and better throughout the campaign, will be shorn of the services of six-goal Mohammed Kudus.
Divisive Duo Depart
Few players have divided critics during the 2023/24 season so far quite like Andre Onana and Ncholas Jackson.
Both will set sail for AFCON in the new year, meaning that Erik ten Hag will have to field the inexperienced Altin Bayindir in goal at Manchester United, perhaps he will provide more certainty between the sticks than the mercurial Onana.
As for Jackson, he has at times looked likely to score more bookings than goals this term for Chelsea, however four goals in two games against Manchester City and Tottenham confirmed he does have plenty of finishing prowess. To make matters worse for Chelsea fans, Jackson’s Senegal are favourites to win AFCON; which could elongate the amount of time he spends away from EPL action.
Napoli’s defence of their Serie A title has been nothing short of catastrophic. It could be about to get a good deal worse with African Footballer of the Year Victor Osimhen departing to represent Nigeria.
He’s not the only goal machine setting his sights on AFCON. Serhou Guirassy has enjoyed a remarkable start to the Bundesliga campaign, blasting 17 goals in just 14 appearances for Stuttgart. That is a feat somewhat diminished by Harry Kane’s record-breaking 21 strikes in the same timeframe. Guirassy will feature for Guinea at AFCON. He is the dictionary definition of irreplaceable at Stuttgart.
That duo have undoubtedly been the players of the season in the Bundesliga so far, but not far behind is Victor Boniface. The outstanding Nigerian has delivered 17 goal involvements in Bayer Leverkusen’s surge to the top of the table. How will Xabi Alonso’s men cope with his absence?
Perhaps the staunchest opposition to the Parisians will come from Monaco, but they will be without their outstanding defender Wilfried Singo for the entirety of AFCON. He will be representing the host nation, Ivory Coast. His loss could prove devastating for the Monegasque title bid.
January and February are often ‘moving months’ in the key European leagues, so who will benefit (and suffer) the most from AFCON and the Asian Cup?
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