Not only are Premier League managers currently plotting how to negotiate the hectic month of December with as many as seven top-flight games to negotiate, but many also have another selection headache on the horizon in the new year. The AFCON takes place between January 9 and February 6, 2022, potentially depriving bosses of their African stars for at least a month.
While not unexpected, the absence of some of these key players could have a major impact on how the Premier League table shapes up come the end of the season.
Below, is a look at a full XI of top-flight players who will be unavailable for their club sides because of the tournament.
An XI of Premier League players who will be on AFCON duty
GK: Edouard Mendy – Chelsea/Senegal
Thomas Tuchel’s men are fortunate to have a top-tier replacement for Mendy at Stamford Bridge in the shape of Kepa Arrizabalaga. However, so outstanding has the Senegalese shot-stopper’s form been for the Blues this season, that his absence will still be keenly felt in west London.
CB: Eric Bailly – Man Utd/Ivory Coast
Called upon to deputise for Raphael Varane and Harry Maguire in recent weeks, 27-year-old Bailly is hardly a guaranteed starter at Old Trafford. With that said, the Red Devils are entering a new era under Ralf Rangnick and the Ivorian being away on international duty will deprive the incoming interim United chief of defensive back-up.
CB: Daniel Amartey – Leicester/Ghana
A regular at the back for the Foxes this term after Wesley Fofana’s unfortunate injury in pre-season, Amartey’s absence with the Black Stars is not ideal for Brendan Rodgers as he looks to propel Leicester back into contention for a European spot in the Premier League.
CB: Romain Saiss – Wolves/Morocco
A fixture in a back-three at Molineux, the ever-dependable Saiss will have high hopes of a successful AFCON campaign with Morocco, as he links up with international colleagues including Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech and Paris Saint-Germain full-back Achraf Hakimi.
RM: Riyad Mahrez – Man City/Algeria
If there’s one Premier League squad that can withstand losing a quality player for a month, then it’s Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. Aiming for back-to-back successes in the AFCON with Algeria, it looks likely that 30-year-old Mahrez will be unavailable to Pep for the duration of the tournament. Somehow, we reckon the City boss might just be able to plug the gap in his ranks.
CM: Naby Keita – Liverpool/Guinea
The first of three players in this side that will be missing for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool come the new year, Keita is probably the member of that trio that the Reds are best equipped to manage without.
CM: Yves Bissouma – Brighton/Mali
A vital cog in Graham Potter’s line-up at the Amex, Brighton could well struggle without the combative presence of Bissouma in the middle of the park.
LM: Ismaila Sarr – Watford/Senegal
The AFCON is set to prove a major thorn in the side of Hornet’s manager Claudio Ranieri. Watford could lose as many as five members of their first-team squad to the tournament, with Emmanuel Dennis, William Troost-Ekong, Adam Masina and Peter Etebo all set to join Sarr at the tournament. The loss of pacey winger will be even more frustrating to deal with as he is likely to be unavailable for Watford up until he joins up with Senegal as he is currently nursing a knee injury.
RW: Mo Salah – Liverpool/Egypt
The level of outrage over his seventh-place finish in this year’s Ballon d’Or voting should tell you all you need to know about the form of 29-year-old Salah this season. With 19 goals in 19 games for the Reds so far this term, it would be hard to understate how vital the prolific winger is to the Anfield side. For the sake of Liverpool’s Premier League challenge, there’ll be many on Merseyside hoping that Egypt suffer an early exit from the competition.
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LW: Sadio Mane – Liverpool/Senegal
As if losing your inspirational talisman wasn’t bad enough, Liverpool will also have to do without another key member of their attack in Mane. With Senegal tipped to have a decent tournament, he could be out of action for his club side until the middle of February. Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino and Divock Origi have a huge void to try and fill in the early stages of 2022.
CF: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – Arsenal/Gabon
Arsenal captain Aubameyang will trade his club’s armband for that of his country as he leads Gabon into their first AFCON tournament since 2017. The 32-year-old hasn’t set the world on fire for the Gunners this season, but will nevertheless be a big miss for Mikel Arteta’s side.
You can check out the team in full here.
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