Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, Africa Cup of Nations players
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Africa Cup of Nations players: The Premier League call-ups

| 03.01.2022

The Africa Cup of Nations begins at the weekend and that means major disruption for Premier League teams faced with the prospect of losing key players for a month.

Unlike the World Cup, European Championship or Copa America, the tournament takes place during the regular season in Europe.

That means a headache for Premier League managers as they have to deal with the absence of any Africa Cup of Nations players in their squad.

Here we assess which top-flight teams will be most affected by the tournament in Cameroon.

Liverpool

Some teams may be losing more Africa Cup of Nations players but it is arguably Liverpool who are losing the most in terms of quality.

The biggest loss is Mohamed Salah, who has been the player of the season so far and is dominating the goal charts with 16 following his strike against Chelsea on Sunday.

Salah is the 2/7 favourite in the Premier League top goalscorer odds despite his inclusion in the Egypt squad, such is his lead in the standings.

Team-mate Sadio Mane is in the squad of Senegal – who are 5/1 outright favourites in the Africa Cup of Nations betting – and between them those two players have scored 24 league goals for the Reds this season – more than 11 Premier League teams including Tottenham.

With midfielder Naby Keita also representing Guinea, this could be a tough month for Liverpool who are now 11 points behind Manchester City in the title race, albeit with a game in hand.

Crystal Palace

Another Premier League team losing their star man is Crystal Palace, with Wilfried Zaha one of three of their players heading off to Africa.

Palace no longer look quite as reliant on the Ivory Coast international as they have done in previous seasons, with the likes of Odsonne Edouard and Conor Gallagher helping to ease the goal burden.

Zaha is still highly influential though with five goals this season and he will be absent for one of the key fixtures in Palace’s season, with their next Premier League game being a trip to rivals Brighton on January 14.

Jordan Ayew (Ghana) and Cheikhou Koyate (Senegal) are also heading off, although Jeffrey Schlupp being left out of the Ghana squad was a boost for Palace boss Patrick Vieira.

Zaha and Kouyate also missed the recent defeat against West Ham and Vieira refused to explain why, prompting speculation that they have tested positive for Covid-19 which could put their participation in the tournament in doubt.

Watford

Watford have the most African players in their squad of any Premier League team and four of the six will be on duty in Cameroon this month.

With the Hornets scrapping for Premier League survival, it is understandable that they are reluctant to lose so many players and they have become embroiled in a second Africa Cup of Nations dispute – this time with Senegal over the availability of Ismaila Sarr.

Senegal have accused Watford of refusing to release the injured winger for the tournament. It comes after Nigeria suggested Watford were “baring fangs” after the club objected to top scorer Emmanuel Dennis being named in their squad. It has since been confirmed that Dennis will not be taking part.

The latest incident involves Sarr, who has been out since November 20 after suffering a knee ligament injury in the 4-1 win over Manchester United.

Watford do not expect Sarr to be fit again until next month but he was named in Senegal’s squad, while Watford are also set to lose William Troost-Ekong (Nigeria), Adam Masina and Imran Louza (both Morocco).

Arsenal

Arsenal are also losing four Africa Cup of Nations players this month, although Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s absence no longer looks as much of an issue after falling out of favour with Gunners boss Mikel Arteta.

Such is his fall down the pecking order at Arsenal that the club allowed him to leave early after receiving a written request from Gabon.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal

Thomas Partey (Ghana) is the only one of their four call-ups that started against Manchester City on Saturday, although Mohamed Elneny (Egypt) and Nicolas Pepe (Ivory Coast) were on the bench.

They will be absent for both legs of the Carabao Cup semi-final against Liverpool as well as the north London derby against Tottenham on January 16.

Leicester

The Africa Cup of Nations is coming at a bad time for Leicester, who also have a mounting injury crisis to deal with.

Wilfred Ndidi and Daniel Amartey, who were the two makeshift centre-backs for the 1-0 win over Liverpool last time out, are in the Nigeria and Ghana squads respectively, while Kelechi Iheanacho is also on duty for Nigeria.

Nampalys Mendy is representing Senegal, although he was left out of Leicester’s Premier League squad this season and is hoping to leave during the January transfer window.

Foxes boss Brendan Rodgers may need to use the transfer market to boost his squad, especially with Jamie Vardy facing up to a month on the sidelines with a hamstring injury.

Africa Cup of Nations players – how the rest are affected

Most other Premier League clubs will only lose one player at worst but there will be several notable absentees this month.

Villa have two players – Bertrand Traore and Trezeguet – playing in the tournament as do Wolves, although Willy Boly is yet to play in the league this season due to injury.

Maxwel Cornet of the Ivory Coast has scored six of Burnley’s 16 goals this season so will be badly missed as they bid to climb out the relegation zone.

Riyad Mahrez, Manchester City

At the other end of the table, leaders Manchester City are better equipped to manage without Algeria’s Riyad Mahrez despite his fine form.

Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy’s inclusion in the Senegal squad provides an opportunity to Kepa Arrizabalaga, who has only made one league appearance this season.

Other notable Africa Cup of Nations call-ups include Yves Bissouma (Brighton), Eric Bailly (Manchester United), Alex Iwobi (Everton) and Frank Onyeka (Brentford).

View the latest Africa Cup of Nations odds

All odds and markets correct as of date of publication

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Author

Andrew McDermott