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Africa Cup of Nations

Premier League clubs braced for AFCON exodus

With the latest edition of the Africa Cup of Nations around the corner, it’s time to examine how the Ivory Coast showpiece will affect Premier League clubs.

Initially planned to take place during the northern hemisphere’s summer, the 2023 instalment of the biennial tournament was rescheduled for January 2024 and will inevitably take its toll on club football. 

Except for Burnley, Manchester City and Newcastle United, all other Premier League clubs will have at least one first-team star participating in the upcoming tournament. 

Since the event runs from January 13 to February 11 and England’s top flight returns to action on January 12 after a two-week hiatus, numerous absences will change the landscape of the opening four rounds of 2024.

Without further ado, let’s look at the most high-profile absentees and analyse the extent of the potential damage they could cause to their clubs.

Top Premier League stars set to feature in AFCON 

Mohamed Salah – Liverpool, Egypt

After falling agonisingly short of the title in the last tournament, the joint-top Premier League goalscorer will be out to lead his country to glory again, leaving Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp scratching his head.

Mohammed Kudus – West Ham United, Ghana

Following a relatively sluggish start to life in the Premier League, the ex-Ajax starlet has hit the ground running, turning into one of David Moyes’ indispensable first-team assets. 

Nicolas Jackson – Chelsea, Senegal

The Senegalese speed demon has been a polarising figure since touching down at Stamford Bridge, yet, with Armando Broja the only centre-forward alternative, his absence won’t go unnoticed.

Jordan Ayew – Crystal Palace, Ghana

While the veteran forward has not been lethal in front of goal this season, his place in Roy Hodgson’s set-up has been paramount as he gears up for his sixth AFCON. 

Andre Onana – Manchester United, Cameroon

Opinions are divided among United fans over Erik ten Hag’s decision to replace long-serving goalkeeper David de Gea with the Cameroonian star.  

But now that he’ll be away on international duty after the upcoming clash against Tottenham Hotspur, you can smell a sense of desperation around Old Trafford. 

Honourable mentions

In addition to Onana, Man Utd will be without Morocco stalwart Sofyan Amrabat, whose international colleague, Nayef Aguerd, leaves Moyes’ West Ham short of options at the back. 

Bournemouth duo Dango Ouattara and Antoine Semenyo – especially the latter – played a massive role in the team’s noticeable resurgence under Andoni Iraola. 

Brighton & Hove Albion’s rising star Simon Adingra has overcome a hamstring problem to make the Ivory Coast squad and could line up for his country against Alex Iwobi‘s Nigeria in the group stages.

Iwobi’s former Everton teammate Idrissa Gueye leaves the Goodison Park camp at the worst possible moment, depriving under-fire coach Sean Dyche of his influential midfield presence. 

Which teams will suffer the most?

Just as Nottingham Forest started picking up pace under new manager Nuno Espirito Santo, AFCON is threatening to disrupt the Portuguese tactician’s plan to steer the Tricky Trees to comfortable safety.

No Premier League club will lose more players than Forest, with Ola AinaIbrahim SangareSerge AurierWilly BolyMoussa Niakhate and Cheikhou Kouyate vacating the island. 

Out-of-sorts Brentford are in the same boat. Not only are Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo sidelined with injury, but Thomas Frank must cope with the exit of Yoane WissaSaman Ghoddos and Frank Onyeka.

While Tottenham Hotspur won’t lose as many players, the departure of two invaluable midfield pieces in Yves Bissouma and Pape Matar Sarr put an additional squeeze on Ange Postecoglou’s depleted line-up.

Spurs moved within a one-point distance of fourth-placed Arsenal at the end of last calendar year, but as the numbers continue to dwindle, keeping up pace with the top four could prove problematic. 

Which teams will benefit the most?

As mentioned above, relegation-battling Burnley need every encouragement they can get amid a dreadful Premier League campaign. 

Seeing direct relegation rivals deprived of first-team regulars while he’s having his entire squad available could be a season-defining stretch for the under-pressure Clarets boss Vincent Kompany.

Considering the extent of a long-standing injury crisis at St James’ Park, the last thing Newcastle needed was losing more players to AFCON, which luckily won’t happen. 

Eddie Howe must take advantage of the upcoming fixtures to arrest the Magpies’ dreadful run of three defeats from their last four league outings and start moving them up the ladder.

With Liverpool losing Salah, other title contenders hope to take full advantage of the Reds talismanic forward’s absence to knock Klopp’s side off their perch. 

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