How Spurs and West Ham seasons could be scuppered by looming international football threat

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The African Cup of Nations gets underway on January 13th in the Ivory Coast.

The African Cup of Nations, a continental tournament that most Premier League managers must regard with all the enthusiasm of a routine prostate exam, returns in January. Hosted by the Ivory Coast, the bi-annual competition pits the very best that Africa has to offer against each other over the course of a month or so that is, in equal measure, joyous to witness and wholly inconvenient to the ambitions of just about every top flight club in the country.

Of course, international glory is far more important than a mid-week, mid-table clash beneath the lights at Selhurst Park, for instance, but nonetheless, Premier League sides will have one eye on the new year knowing that there is fast approaching a period during which they may be without several key players.

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But which clubs will be worst affected by AFCON when it does eventually roll over the horizon? We’ve taken a thorough look below...

No Players

When your luck is in, it’s in. Much to the chagrin of the rest of the top six, defending champions Manchester City, now without Riyad Mahrez, will not lose any players to AFCON this winter. Because if any team needed a mid-season boost, it’s last term’s treble winners.

The only other side in the Premier League who are guaranteed to keep their squad fully intact this January are Newcastle United, who have no African players in their first team.

One Player

What’s the next best thing to losing no players? Losing one player, of course. That being said, if that player is Mohamed Salah, then it will feel like a hammer blow regardless. Liverpool should only stand to be without the Egyptian King in January (assuming Joel Matip doesn’t come out of international retirement), but his absence will be felt keenly.

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Elsewhere, Aston Villa are likely to wave goodbye to Burkina Faso forward Bertrand Traore, and Chelsea, who have struggled for goals during the early stages of the season, will bid farewell to Senegalese striker Nicolas Jackson. Luton Town will lose Issa Kabore, but Marvelous Nakamba will stay put after Zimbabwe failed to qualify. Burnley, for their part, will sidle into January facing the very real possibility of being without Anass Zaroury.

Two Players

Plenty of clubs look set to be without a couple of players in the new year, including title hopefuls Arsenal, who will presumably have to manage in the dual absence of Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny. Likewise, across north London, Tottenham will be bracing themselves for something of a midfield exodus, with Ange Postecoglou’s preferred engine room duo of Yves Bissouma and Pape Matar Sarr probable candidates for call-ups from Mali and Senegal respectively.

At the other end of the table, Bournemouth may lose Hamed Traore and Dango Ouattara, while Everton will almost certainly have to deal with the temporary departures of Abdoulaye Doucoure and Idrissa Gana Gueye. Elsewhere, Wolves could presumably use a month of reshuffling to accomodate for the disappearance of first team pair Rayan Ait-Nouri and Boubacar Traore like a hole in the head.

Three Players

Manchester United will arguably be the hardest hit with regards to their trio of likely absences. First choice goalkeeper Andre Onana will be joining up with Cameroon (although given his recent form that may be a blessing in disguise) while midfielders Sofyan Amrabat and Hannibal Mejbri will be in contention for Morocco and Tunisia respectively. Ivorian attacker Amad Diallo will probably miss out on the tournament as he recovers from serious injury.

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Further south, Brentford will be dreading the prospect of being without attacking duo Bryan Mbeumo and Yoane Wissa, as well as Nigerian battler Frank Onyeka. Brighton also face an uncomfortable few weeks without Tariq Lamptey, Carlos Baleba, and Simon Adingra, will bitter rivals Crystal Palace could be without Jeffrey Schlupp, Cheick Doucoure, and Jordan Ayew. Fulham may lose Calvin Bassey, Alex Iwobi, and Fode Ballo-Toure, and Sheffield United might suffer further torment if Ivorian U23 international Benie Traore receives a senior call-up alongside Anis Ben Slimane and Ismaila Coulibaly, who represent Tunisia and Mali respectively.

Four Players

As things stand, West Ham look like the only Premier League club who could lose four players to AFCON, although the impact each absence might have will vary a fair amount. The likes of Nayef Aguerd, Mohammed Kudus, and Said Benrahma will be sorely missed, while the departure Maxwel Cornet, as talented as he is, represents a much softer blow to absorb.

Seven Players

Without a doubt the biggest losers in the Premier League when it comes to next year’s AFCON, however, are Nottingham Forest. Steve Cooper’s men could be without as many as seven first team players in January, and will have to find a way of adapting in the absence of a number of key players.

Most notable is Taiwo Awoniyi, who will presumably be called up by Nigeria alongside Ola Aina, while Serge Aurier looks set to captain the Ivory Coast on home soil alongside Forest teammates Willy Boly and Ibrahim Sangare. Elsewhere, Moussa Niakhate and Cheikhou Kouyate are likely to get the nod from Senegal.

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