By Adenike Ediale
It’s a disaster and the English premier League will never be the same again (at least for weeks, while AFCON last). Usually, January offers the opportunity for clubs to reinforce and strengthen their teams before the campaign’s business end. However, the game is changing this period as some Premier League managers are already counting the cost of international call-ups for the Africa Cup of Nations.
A quick browse of the list of top-flight absentees for the tournament in Gabon, which begins on Saturday, shows those sides who can ill-afford to be depleted are the worst affected.
Whereas the league’s top six clubs will only lose a combined three players, it is a rather different story for those fighting relegation and scrapping for survival.
Defending champions Leicester, who are six points clear of the drop zone, and perennial strugglers Sunderland both have three players missing, as do mid-table Stoke.
But while the Potters will be deprived of Wilfried Bony and Ramadan Sobhi, who have made minimal impact this season, Leicester will be without big-hitters Riyad Mahrez, Islam Slimani and Daniel Amartey.
Sunderland have first-team regulars Lamine Kone and Didier Ndong, as well as Wahbi Khazri at the tournament, which runs until 5 February for those nations that go the distance.
Training grounds will also be less crowded at Crystal Palace and Hull, both of whom are firmly ensconced in the relegation mire, while Watford and West Ham also have personnel hurdles to navigate.
Palace winger Wilfried Zaha has been in scintillating form for the under-performing Eagles this term and the 24-year-old’s absence with the Ivory Coast is likely to be felt badly. Bakary Sako is also away with Mali.
Watford are plummeting like a stone with only one victory in eight league matches and will be missing Nordin Amrabat, their brightest spark this term, and midfielder Adlene Guedioura.
Former Swansea hitman Andre Ayew’s secondment to the Ghana squad is likely to intensify West Ham’s pursuit of a striker, while Cheikhou Kouyate will leave a gaping hole in their midfield that will need plugging.
Unless newly-appointed Hull boss Marco Silva has any aces up his sleeve, the Tigers’ already threadbare squad will be weakened further by Ahmed Elmohamady and Dieumerci Mbokani playing for Egypt and DR Congo respectively.
Such a list of absentees is in stark contrast to the title contenders and those in the higher echelons of the division, who will have little or no representation at the 31st edition of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Leaders Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City will not lose a single players, compared to one apiece for Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool – Mohamed Elneny, Eric Bailly and Sadio Mane.
At A Glance:
Arsenal – Mohamed Elneny (Egypt); Bournemouth – Max Gradel (Ivory Coast); Burnley – N/A; Chelsea – N/A; Crystal Palace – Bakary Sako (Mali), Wilfried Zaha (Ivory Coast); Everton – Idrissa Gueye (Senegal); Hull City – Ahmed Elmohamady (Egypt) and Dieumerci Mbokani (Dr Congo); Leicester City – Riyad Mahrez (Algeria), Islam Slimani (Algeria), Daniel Amartey (Ghana); Liverpool – Sadio Mane (Senegal); Manchester City – N/A; Manchester United – Eric Bailly (Ivory Coast); Middlesbrough – N/A; Southampton – Sofiane Boufal (Morocco); Stoke City – Mame Biram Diouf (Senegal), Ramadan Sobhi (Egypt), Wilfried Bony (Ivory Coast); Sunderland – Wahbi Khazri (Tunisia), Lamine Kone (Ivory Coast), Didier Ndong (Gabon); Swansea – N/A; Tottenham – N/A; Watford – Adlene Guedioura (Algeria), Nordin Amrabat (Morocco); West Brom – N/A; West Ham – Andre Ayew (Ghana), Cheikhou Kouyate (Senegal)
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