Generation Next is our regular feature on Just Football profiling the best young talents in the world. And here’s another to keep an eye on – Atalanta’s bustling midfielder Franck Kessie… Last summer, when Genoa former coach Gian Piero Gasperini made the move to Atalanta, after seven wonderful years spent in Liguria (interjected by spells […]
With just a few weeks left until the Africa Cup of Nations 2017 starts in Gabon, which Premier League managers will be affected by the temporary losses of some of their African stars? And could AFCON change the shape of the league this season? Here are 10 African stars set to miss Premier League game time on international duty…
Sadio Mané (Senegal)
Liverpool are impressing this season under Jurgen Klopp. Currently they are 2nd in the Premier League, and proving to be title contenders. Klopp’s side have scored 46 goals in 19 matches, in which Mane has contributed to 13 goals.
He’s provided five assists and scored eight, meaning Mane has had a hand in 28% of Liverpool’s goals. Moreover, he’s scored some critical goals like the one in the Merseyside derby to clinch the three points. With the injury to Philippe Coutinho and Mane’s absence with Senegal, can Liverpool still fight for the Premier League title?
Idrissa Gueye (Senegal)
Another Senegalese player who has shown great ability since arriving on Merseyside in the summer will leave his club side for AFCON 2017 on Monday. Everton are going to struggle without their defensive midfielder Idrissa Gueye, as he made 82 successful tackles in his first 17 Premier League appearances for the Toffees, the highest rate this season. Will boss Ronald Koeman move quickly find a replacement for him in January?
Cheikhou Kouyate (Senegal)
The versatile Senegal player, who has featured as a centre-back and midfield anchor man, has played 16 times for West Ham United this season helping his side to five clean sheets. Cheikhou Kouyate‘s vision, strength and passes are keys to their improved form recently. Can the Hammers’ shaky defence live without him?
Riyad Mahrez (Algeria)
— PFA (@PFA) December 13, 2016
The 2016 BBC African Footballer of the year will be the most significant absentee for Claudio Ranieri’s side for anything up to the next two months, as The Desert Warriors are relying on their star to get them their second AFCON title. Despite a loss of form this season in the Premier League, Riyad Mahrez is still one of Leicester City‘s most important players when on form.
Islam Slimani (Algeria)
Leicester City‘s tank Islam Slimani will also be a huge loss for them, as he has so far scored six goals in his first 16 games for the champions, including the winner against West Ham this past weekend. The Algeria striker has settled quickly with his new side and he is one of the favourites to be the top goal-scorer at the tournament.
Sofiane Boufal (Morocco)
Southampton are set to lose their maestro Sofiane Boufal. Boufal has played 10 games in the Premier League, scoring one goal. Although he has not had many minutes on the pitch so far, he’s starting to demonstrate his capabilities and to prove that he is a player Saints can rely on. Saints’ loss could be Morocco‘s gain, with Boufal set to miss both legs of Southampton’s EFL Cup semi-final against Liverpool.
Ahmed Elmohamady (Egypt)
Ahmed Elmohamady, with more than 100 appearances in the Premier League to his name, and with the ability to play in several positions, is someone Hull City are really going to miss. Although Elmohamady is not a starter for Egypt, Hector Cuper thinks that he can make use of the experienced 29-year-old right-back.
Mohamed Elneny (Egypt)
Even though Mohamed Elneny is not a guaranteed first team starter at the Emirates, Arsene Wenger and Arsenal could suffer without him – especially after the injury to Santi Cazorla. The Pharaohs are back again at the AFCON after six years and are hoping to clinch their 8th title with the help of Elneny and his teammates.
Wilfried Zaha (Ivory Coast)
Even though he has been capped twice by England, Wilfried Zaha switched allegiance to the Ivory Coast (the country of his birth) just before AFCON 2017. New Crystal Palace boss Sam Allardyce will have cause for concern. Not only does he have to turn around a struggling team but he’ll have to do it for up to a month without one of the league’s most creative players. Zaha has six assists and three goals so far for Palace this season.
Eric Bailly (Ivory Coast)
Despite his recent injury, Eric Bailly is one of the players Jose Mourinho knows he can rely on. His physical abilities helped him to find a starting place in the Manchester United side this season. Very impressive, given that he’s new to the team and the league. The Ivorian beast would be a huge asset for The Elephants and could be a reason that they will fight for the title.
Which side will suffer most?
Sunderland, Leicester City and Liverpool could be the sides who will miss their AFCON stars the most. The Foxes have important matches against Manchester United and Chelsea in January and February, while Liverpool are fighting for the title, and Mane is a key creative cog in their attacking machine. Sunderland will be without Lamine Kone, Didier Ndong and Wahbi Khazri – bad news for a squad that is already light on quality.
But no doubt the competition will impact many Premier League teams, even if it’s not to the same degree. The flip side is that the African Cup of Nations will be a very good opportunity for players to prove themselves and to fight for their countries’ glory – and maybe impress their watching managers back home.
Ali Mahmoud El Damaty is a new contributor to Just Football. Catch him on Twitter @Damatyy