The Africa Cup of Nations begins this weekend as the continent’s leading sides look to be crowned winners of the 2022 edition in Cameroon.
The mid-season scheduling of the tournament has provided Premier League managers with a selection headache and several sides have seen a number of stars depart for international duty at a crucial part of the season.
The final of the competition will be played on February 6, meaning Premier League stars will miss around a month of action should their nations reach the latter stages.
With the first fixture between host nation Cameroon and Burkina Faso set to take place on Sunday, we’ve looked at the Premier League clubs worst affected by absentees this month.
Thomas Partey (Ghana), Mohamed Elneny (Egypt), Pierre Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Nicolas Pepe (Ivory Coast), Omar Rekik (Tunisia).
Arsenal will be represented by five players at the 2022 AFCON, more than any other Premier League side. The biggest absentee for Mikel Arteta will be Thomas Partey, who has grown in influence this season and was a stand-out performer during the defeat to Manchester City last weekend.
Partey’s absence leaves a void in midfield for the Gunners, whose options are further stretched by Mohamed Elneny’s call-up for Egypt. With Ainsley Maitland-Niles also closing in on a loan move to Roma, the north Londoners could enter the January window for reinforcements.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will lead Gabon’s challenge despite his recent exile from the side, whilst Nicolas Pepe will hope for a run of games for the Ivory Coast after a frustrating Premier League season that has delivered just five league starts – the last of which came against Crystal Palace in October.
Daniel Amartey (Ghana), Nampalys Mendy (Senegal), Wilfred Ndidi (Nigeria), Kelechi Iheanacho (Nigeria).
Leicester will be without key personnel during AFCON, with both Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho called up to represent Nigeria at the tournament.
Ndidi ranks second in the Premier League for tackles won this season and continues to be an underrated presence at the base of the Foxes’ midfield, whilst Iheanacho’s exit for international duty is untimely given recent injuries to Jamie Vardy and Patson Daka.
Brendan Rodgers has seen his squad decimated through injuries this term and the departure of four senior stars will provide further problems for the Leicester boss, who is already without the likes of Wesley Fofana, James Justin, Jonny Evans and Caglar Soyuncu amongst others.
An already challenging campaign is set to reach a new level of difficulty as Rodgers and Leicester look to navigate the next month.
William Troost-Ekong (Nigeria), Adam Masina (Morocco), Imran Louza (Morocco), Ismaila Sarr (Senegal).
Watford will also have four players featuring at AFCON, though a fifth – Emmanuel Dennis – is set to remain with the Hornets following a club-vs-country dispute over the Nigerian forward.
Claudio Ranieri’s side have now released Ismailla Sarr for medical checks after a similar dispute with Senegal, with the winger having missed the past nine Premier League matches through injury.
William Troost-Ekong and Adam Masina have both featured regularly this season and will be missed for a crucial period of the season, whilst Imran Louza is part of the Morocco squad looking to make an impact.
AFCON could hardly have come at a worse time for Watford with the 17th-placed Hornets facing each of the Premier League’s bottom three in their next three games.
Keeping Dennis, who trails only Mohamed Salah for goal involvement this season, for those clashes with relegation rivals could be crucial in their battle to beat the drop.
Mohamed Salah (Egypt), Naby Keita (Guinea), Sadio Mane (Senegal).
Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane sign off for AFCON with a goal each 🔥 pic.twitter.com/sH9AaHINFX
— GOAL (@goal) January 2, 2022
Liverpool possess arguably the highest-profile absentees this month, losing both Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane to international duty with Egypt and Senegal amongst the favourites for the trophy.
Salah’s absence is a major blow given his brilliant start to the campaign, leading the Premier League for both goals and assists. Mane too will be a miss and leaves Jurgen Klopp without two of his chief sources of goals, the onus now on the Reds’ back-up brigade – including Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino – to step up in their absence.
Neither of that duo has started a league fixture this season in a concerning indication of their status in Klopp’s plans, the prospect of a new arrival on Merseyside this winter having not been ruled out.
Salah and Mane – alongside Naby Keita – will almost certainly miss Premier League games with Brentford (H) and Crystal Palace (A), whilst the home clash with Leicester on February 8 will come too soon if any reach the tournament’s final.
There is also a two-legged Carabao Cup semi-final with Arsenal to come, alongside FA Cup involvement this month.
Cheikhou Kouyate (Senegal), Jordan Ayew (Ghana), Wilfried Zaha (Ivory Coast).
Crystal Palace will be missing talisman Wilfried Zaha this month with the forward part of the Ivory Coast squad bidding to win the tournament for a third time.
Zaha’s absence has often coincided with a downturn in results for Palace in recent seasons, but an improved squad now has the capabilities to perform in his absence.
The departures of both Zaha and Jordan Ayew for international duty could provide a chance for summer signing Michael Olise, who has impressed during his fleeting appearances since arriving from Reading.
Cheikhou Kouyate also forms part of the Senegal squad looking to win AFCON for the first time.
Rest of the Premier League
Chelsea, Manchester City, Burnley and Brighton are amongst the sides to have just one player leave for international duty, but each will be suffering the loss of a crucial component.
Edouard Mendy will be Senegal’s goalkeeper at the tournament, with Kepa Arrizabalaga facing the sizeable task of replacing the Chelsea shot-stopper across the next month.
Manchester City will lose Riyad Mahrez in the midst of a sparkling run of form for the winger, who has seven goal involvements in his past four Premier League games and will be tasked with inspiring defending champions Algeria.
— Riyad Mahrez (@Mahrez22) January 1, 2022
Burnley will need to cope without Maxwel Cornet for the foreseeable future with the summer signing, who is the club’s leading scorer with six goals this season, set to be missing for winnable-looking home fixtures with a depleted Leicester and Watford.
Roman Saiss – who leads the Premier League for clearances this season – will be missed at Wolves as he represents Morocco, whilst other notable absentees include Eric Bailly (Manchester United and Ivory Coast), Yves Bissouma (Brighton and Mali), and Said Benrahma (West Ham and Algeria)