COMMENT By Harvey Byrne
Africa’s national sides are set to play each other in January in the Africa Cup of Nations, which will see a number of important players from the Premier League leave their respective clubs to compete.
The tournament will be held in Gabon from January 14 right up until February 5, which could see some teams without their star players for almost a month, and up to five games.
As fans know the Premier League is well-represented by players from all around the world and Football Insider has picked the top five players who will be missing this winter:
Leicester’s title winning star and last season’s PFA Player of the Year. The 25-year-old Algeria international made the decision to stay at the Foxes in the summer following interest from Arsenal. Despite struggling to recapture his previous form with four goals and three assists from 16 fixtures in all competitions this season, he will still rate a huge loss to Claudio Ranieri’s side.
On the national team front, Algeria last won the tournament in 1990 and will be hoping that Foxes team-mate Islam Slimani and West Ham’s Sofiane Feghouli can help win the tournament alongside Mahrez.
The attacking winger made a giant £34million switch to Liverpool from Southampton in the summer. He has been an instant success under Jurgen Klopp and is now playing a pivotal part as the Reds top the Premier League pile. Six goals and four assists in 11 fixtures has helped to endear the 24-year-old to Kop supporters and he will be a huge loss in a key part of the season for his club.
Senegal have never won the AFCON, but finished runners-up in 2002. Now Mane will be hoping for a club and country double in 2017.
Southampton’s summer record signing has already missed the opening stages of the campaign and is currently looking to adjust to a new country. Success during his time at Lille last season tempted the Saints into splashing out £16million on the 23-year-old despite his injury and winter absence.
Morocco last won the tournament 1976 and the national team will be hoping to end the 31-year wait, as they went unbeaten in their Qualifying Group F with five wins and one draw from their six fixtures.
Another club-record signing in the summer, Ayew made the £20.5million switch to east London from Premier League side Swansea in the summer. His career for the Hammers didn’t start as he would have liked, suffering a long-term injury on his debut against Chelsea. He has since returned, but is yet to showcase his real talent with many hoping the 26-year-old would help Slaven Bilic’s men in the attack. The club are currently in 17th and battling at the wrong end of the table and the side will need all of their star players if their poor form continues past Christmas.
Ghana have won the tournament four times and, of the teams competing next year, only Egypt have done better, with seven titles.
The Ivory Coast 22-year-old joined Jose Mourinho at Manchester United in the summer for a giant £30million fee for a defender. He has been a star for the Red Devils since joining and in August he was voted the club’s player of the month after just two months with the side. He will be a big loss for a United team who are looking to break back into the Champions League places this season.
Ivory Coast are the current holders of the African competition and the national team will be keen to secure their third victory in the winter.
In other Liverpool news, the Reds could be Premier League runaway leaders by Christmas.