The Africa Cup of Nations gets under way in January with a large number of Premier League players set to depart for international duty in the coming weeks.
Some big names will miss a crucial point in their club’s season, as Africa’s best battle to be crowned continental champions in Ivory Coast.
Ahead of the tournament, which will run between January 13th and 11th February, we’ve picked out a best XI of Premier League players who could be called up.
Goalkeeper: Andre Onana – Manchester United
Andre Onana has had a tricky start to life at Manchester United this season, with an international tournament perhaps an ideal opportunity for the goalkeeper to rediscover his form and confidence.
Last season, Onana impressed as Inter Milan reached the Champions League final, leading the tournament for saves, save percentage and goals prevented. However, his early period with Manchester United has been challenging with the shot-stopper under scrutiny for a number of high-profile errors.
— Amazon Prime Video Sport (@primevideosport) December 26, 2023
Onana will form part of a Cameroon team looking to win a sixth AFCON title, with only Egypt having ever won more than The Indomitable Lions.
Right-back: Serge Aurier – Nottingham Forest
Nottingham Forest are set to suffer the biggest loss for AFCON, with seven players in the club’s squad eligible for selection. The experienced Serge Aurier is among them, with the right-back set to captain host nation Ivory Coast at the finals.
The 31-year-old, who has made 14 league appearances for Forest this season, will be aiming to win a second AFCON title, having formed part of the Ivorian team crowned champions in 2015. Aurier was named in the Team of the Tournament after that success by Les Éléphants and has been named in the CAF Team of the Year on four occasions.
Centre-back: Nayef Aguerd – West Ham
Morocco are heavily fancied for success at the tournament, after becoming the first African nation to reach the World Cup semi-finals in Qatar last winter.
A talented team contains Paris Saint-Germain superstar Achraf Hakimi, ex-Chelsea wideman Hakim Ziyech and Sevilla striker Youssef En-Nesyri. In terms of Premier League representation, on-loan Manchester United midfielder Sofyan Amrabat and West Ham centre-back Nayef Aguerd will be expected to join up with The Atlas Lions.
The latter has been a key figure in a West Ham team who sit in the Premier League’s top seven, and have qualified for the Europa League’s last 16. His composed defending and recovery pace will be a loss to the Hammers when he links up with the national team next month.
The art of defending by Nayef Aguerd 🖼️ pic.twitter.com/QTvSYcnSSo
— West Ham United (@WestHam) December 19, 2023
Morocco are aiming for their second AFCON title and first in 47 years.
Centre-back: Calvin Bassey – Fulham
Calvin Bassey returned to English football last summer after signing for Fulham from Ajax in a deal worth €21m.
The versatile defender, who grew up in London, will form part of a Nigeria team who have struggled for consistent results despite a wealth of attacking talent. Bassey has won 15 caps for the Super Eagles since his debut last year and will be joined by Fulham teammate Alex Iwobi in the squad for the finals.
Left-back: Rayan Aït-Nouri – Wolves
Rayan Aït-Nouri will be hoping for a call up to the Algeria squad for AFCON, having changed his international allegiance to represent the The Fennec Foxes in 2023.
The Wolves left-back was born in France and represented Les Bleus up to u-21 level, before changing his allegiance to Algeria. The 22-year-old made his debut for Algeria against Niger in March.
Midfield: Thomas Partey – Arsenal
Thomas Partey has been named in Ghana’s provisional squad for the tournament, despite an injury-hit season for Arsenal. The midfielder has not featured for the North Londoners since October, but Ghana are prepared to give Partey as much time as possible to prove his fitness for AFCON.
The 30-year-old is the highest-profile name in the Black Stars squad, who will be under the management of ex-Brighton and Newcastle boss Chris Hughton for the tournament.
Midfield: Yves Bissouma – Tottenham
Spurs manager Ange Postecoglou will no doubt be frustrated with another upcoming absence for Yves Bissouma, who has been a cornerstone of the North London side’s improvement under the new head coach this season.
The Mali midfielder ranks fourth in the Premier League for tackles (50), fifth for tackles won (31) and third for dribblers tackled (27) after bouncing back from a difficult debut season with Spurs. Disciplinary issues have blighted his campaign however, with Bissouma currently sitting out his third card-related suspension of the season.
Yves Bissouma is the only player in the Premier League with:
◉ 20+ tackles made
◉ 20+ interceptions
◉ 20+ take-ons completed
— Squawka (@Squawka) December 20, 2023
Should Mali go deep into the tournament next month, he could miss up to four Premier League games, including a trip to Manchester United.
Midfield: Idrissa Gueye – Everton
Idrissa Gueye will form part of the Senegal team looking to defend their status as African champions in the new year.
The Lions of Teranga won a maiden AFCON title after beating Egypt on penalties in 2022, with former Liverpool forward Sadio Mane scoring the decisive spot-kick.
Gueye, who had also been part of the Senegal team who finished runners-up in 2019, is his nation’s most-capped player of all time with 107 appearances. The 34-year-old will be a big miss for Everton, having formed a dynamic midfield alongside Amadou Onana and Abdoulaye Doucoure under Sean Dyche.
Doucoure, meanwhile, has opted against taking part in AFCON for the Mali national team.
Forward: Mohamed Salah – Egypt
Mohamed Salah is African football’s biggest talent right now and will set his sights on an elusive AFCON title in the new year.
Salah has twice finished as runner-up in the competition with The Pharaohs, who are targeting a record-extending eighth AFCON title and first since 2010.
121 – Mohamed Salah has been directly involved in 121 goals in 120 appearances in the Premier League for Liverpool at Anfield (88 goals, 33 assists), the outright most of any player for the club.
121 – Mohamed Salah
120 – Steven Gerrard
100 – Robbie Fowler
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 23, 2023
Salah has been in electric form for Liverpool this season with 18 goal involvements in 18 games in the Premier League. He has scored 55 times in 95 games for Egypt and is closing in on the national goal record, held by Hossam Hassan (68).
Forward: Mohammed Kudus – Ghana
Mohammed Kudus is fast emerging as one of the signings of the Premier League campaign, having made an instant impact at West Ham. The 23-year-old has 10 goals in just 17 starts in all competitions and has developed an encouraging chemistry with Lucas Paqueta and Jarrod Bowen at the London Stadium.
Kudus, who has nine goals for the Black Stars, scored twice at the 2022 World Cup and will hope to make another impression at a major tournament for Ghana. Named as Ghana’s Footballer of the Year for 2023, the versatile forward will lead the charge of the four-time winners alongside Athletic Bilbao frontman Iñaki Williams.
8.5 – Mohammed Kudus has regained possession of the ball 8.5 times per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season, the most of any player (min. 500 minutes). Active. pic.twitter.com/uAHDAy75Io
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 21, 2023
Forward: Nicolas Jackson – Senegal
Christopher Nkunku’s return to fitness is timely for Chelsea, as leading scorer Nicolas Jackson prepares to depart for AFCON duty.
The 22-year-old is part of an emerging generation for the reigning African champions, introduced into the side following their maiden AFCON title, alongside Iliman Ndiaye and Lamine Camara.
Jackson made his international debut at the 2022 World Cup last winter and will hope to open his goalscoring account for the national team at the upcoming tournament. He has seven goals in 14 league starts for Chelsea this season after arriving from Villarreal in the summer.