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Which Premier League sides will be hurt the most by AFCON and the Asian Cup?


AFCON, Premier League, Asian Cup absences

In January 2024, both the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) and Asian Cup will drag a host of both continents’ finest footballers from their Premier League duties.

So we’ve analysed both tournament’s impacts and ranked the Premier League sides, according to how severely they’re affected.

The Asian Cup — January 12 – February

Africa Cup of Nations — January 13 – February 11

Both tournaments often cop unfair criticism for their mid-season schedule; Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis claimed he’d not sign African players unless they agreed to skip AFCON. (Did he run that past his talismanic Nigerian striker, Victor Osimhen?)

With 50 players expected to jet off to their respective continental championship, the impacts will be felt right across the Premier League.

Brighton and Hove Albion’s Ivorian speedster Simon Adingra

We’ve undertaken the task of analysing how each side is impacted and created a ranking, based off our conclusions.

To assist in formulating this article we created a very basic scoring system based on the following formula:

  • Teams received 3 points for a star player missing
  • 2 points each for a starting player missing or a top half fixture missed (based on ladder at time of writing)
  • 1 point each for a squad player missing or a bottom half fixture missed (based on ladder at time of writing)

While this formula didn’t solely dictate our final ranking, it provided us with a solid baseline understanding of who’s missing who and what games they will be absent from.

Bear in mind we’ve also conducted our calculations based on two assumptions: each player being released by their club for the tournament and each player missing the four available Premier Leagues during the window of both tournaments.

We understand players missing all four available Premier League games is incredibly unlikely as different national sides have different prospects for winning their relevant tournament, for example Liverpool’s Wataru Endo’s Japan are heavy favourites for the Asian Cup meaning he’s likely to miss all four matches. For others, this isn’t the case.

However, we viewed this as the most simplistic process to use, and one which allowed us to come to what we believe is a fair assessment of how AFCON and the Asian Cup is impacting the Premier League. 

January transfer window targets, postecoglou, klopp, arteta
Who of Arteta, Klopp, & Postecoglou will be most impacted by AFCON and the Asian Cup?

Ranking Premier League sides AFCON and Asian Cup impacts

*The higher the rank, the higher the impact by the international tournaments

=20th – Manchester City and Newcastle

Absentee severity score: 0

Players missing: None 

Both City and Newcastle can boast their lack of absentees this January. They are the only sides unaffected by player’s heading to either tournament, although both sides aren’t without their own injury concerns anyhow.

18th – Aston Villa

Absentee severity score: 7

Players missing: Bertrand Traore, Burkina Faso (AFCON)

Fixtures definitely missing: Everton (A), Newcastle (H)

Fixtures potentially missing: Sheffield United (A),  Manchester United (H)

Villa are flying high at the moment, deservedly so. Their rich run of form looks likely to continue given squad winger, Bertrand Traore, is their only tournament absentee this January. Traore has played just 10 league minutes this season (accurate as of gameweek 16).

17th – Burnley

Absentee severity score: 8

Players missing: Lyle Foster, South Africa (AFCON)

Fixtures definitely missing: Luton Town (H), Manchester City (A)

Fixtures potentially missing: Fulham (H), Liverpool (A)

Another side missing just a sole player. Burnley need all hands on deck as they fight to remain in the Premier League. Foster has three goals and two assists this season but hasn’t played since a 3-0 loss to Burnley in October.

16th – Chelsea 

Absentee severity score: 8

Players missing: Nicolas Jackson, Senegal (AFCON)

Fixtures definitely missing: Fulham (H), Liverpool (A)

Fixtures potentially missing: Wolves (H), Palace (A)

Chelsea’s Nicolas Jackson’s life in London has got off to an unpredictable start. Some games he looks like a real player, others a shadow on the pitch. 

Just how severe absence is to Chelsea hinges on the fitness and form of Christopher Nkunku and whether Poch’s attacking reinforcement wishes are answered in the January window.

Nkunku, AFCON, Premier League
Will Frenchman Christopher Nkunku’s return diminish Nicolas Jackson’s AFCON absence impact?

15th – Sheffield United 

Absentee severity score: 10

Players missing: Ismaila Coulibaly (Mali), Anis Slimane (Tunisia), Benie Traore (Ivory Coast) & Yasser Larouci (Algeria) (all AFCON)

Fixtures definitely missing: West Ham (H), Crystal Palace (A)

Fixtures potentially missing: Aston Villa (H), Luton (A)

Four absentees is significant for Sheffield United, especially given they’re current dogfight to remain in the top flight. But given these four players have competed in just 747 minutes combined this season it’s safe to say their absences mightn’t felt too intensely.

14th – Arsenal

Absentee severity score: 8

Players missing: Takehiro Tomiyasu, Japan (Asian Cup), Thomas Partey, Ghana & Mohamed Elneny, Egypt (all AFCON)

Fixtures definitely missing: Crystal Palace (H), Nottingham Forest (A)

Fixtures potentially missing: Liverpool (H), West Ham (A)

Thomas Partey’s fitness has ruled him out of a large portion of Arsenal’s season, Elneny is a sparsely used back up, and Tomiyasu is also an understudy pushing for a starting berth.

However, both Partey and Tomiyasu are crucial elements of a side hunting the title, especially considering a potential top of the table clash against Liverpool will likely occur without them.

13th – Bournemouth

Absentee severity score: 10

Players missing: Dango Ouattara, Burkina Faso, Hamed Traore & Antoine Semenyo, Ghana (all AFCON)

Fixtures definitely missing: Liverpool (H), West Ham (A)

Fixtures potentially missing: Forest (H), Fulham (A)

Andoni Iraola is starting to sprinkle his magic at Bournemouth. Luckily for the Spaniard, he will only be missing a few rotational players in January and potentially early February.

Dominic Solanke Bournemouth new image
Fortunately for Bournemouth Dominic Solanke won’t be jetting off this January

12th – Luton Town

Absentee severity score: 10 

Players missing: Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, DR Congo, Issa Kabore, Burkina Faso & Marvellous Nakamba, Zimbabwe (all AFCON)

Fixtures definitely missing: Burnley (A), Brighton (H)

Fixtures potentially missing: Newcastle (A), Sheffield United (H)

Luton Town don’t have enough resources to spare. With three key players in their side potentially absent in January, Rob Edward will need to stretch what he can to ensure his side are aren’t too far off the pace once everyone is on deck.

11th – Fulham

Absentee severity score: 9

Players missing: Calvin Bassey, Nigeria, Alex Iwobi, Nigeria & Fode Ballo-Toure, Senegal (all AFCON)

Fixtures definitely missing: Chelsea (A), Everton (H)

Fixtures potentially missing: Burnley (A), Bournemouth (H)

Fulham has begun kicking into gear recently. Alex Iwobi is stating to find the finishing product that has been his achilles heel since his career began, while Bassey has started finding his feet in recent outings.

What mitigates the pairs absence is a relatively easy run of fixtures of which the toughest is an sometimes-good-sometimes-bad Chelsea team.

10th – Crystal Palace

Absentee severity score: 10

Players missing: Jordan Ayew, Ghana & Jeffrey Schlupp, Ghana (both AFCON)

Fixtures definitely missing: Arsenal (A), Sheffield Utd (H)

Fixtures potentially missing: Brighton (A), Chelsea (H)

Roy Hodgson isn’t having a good time at the moment. His midfield rock, Cheick Doucoure, is out for a while, so too is creative talisman Eberechi Eze. With this in mind, losing the reliable Jordan Ayew and Jeffrey Schlupp is a major blow.

Jarrod Bowen image
Jarrod Bowen’s form mitigates Muhammed Kudus’ potentially lengthy AFCON absence

9th – West Ham

Absentee severity score: 12

Players missing: Muhammed Kudus, Ghana, Nayef Aguerd, Morocco, Maxwel Cornet, Ivory Coast & Said Benrahma, Algeria (all AFCON)

Fixtures definitely missing: Sheffield United (A), Bournemouth (H)

Fixtures potentially missing: Manchester United (A), Arsenal (H)

Aguerd and Kudus, who has shown flashes of his potential, will be sorely missed for David Moyes, particularly at the back end of the the tournament’s when they travel to Old Trafford and host Arsenal.

8th – Manchester United

Absentee severity score: 12

Players missing: Andre Onana, Cameroon, Sofyan Amrabat, Morocco & Hannibal Mejbri (all AFCON)

Fixtures definitely missing: Spurs (H), Wolves (A)

Fixtures potentially missing: West Ham (H), Villa (A)

Andre Onana’s form has taken a nose dive since his arrival in Manchester, but given the lack of a solid, reliable back up. Who comes in for the Cameroonian? Tom Heaton? Altay Bayindir? Please, they’re not worthy deputies.

7th – Liverpool

Absentee severity score: 9

Players missing: Wataru Endo, Japan (Asian Cup), Mohamed Salah, Egypt (AFCON)

Fixtures definitely missing: Bournemouth (A), Chelsea (H)

Fixtures potentially missing: Arsenal (A), Burnley (H)

Let’s address the elephant in the room, Mohamed Salah will be a major absence. At time of writing (gameweek 16) he’s scored or assisted 50% of Liverpool’s 36 Premier League goals. With a crucial title clash against Arsenal looming, Liverpool can’t afford to miss him, even if they have a host of worthy deputies waiting in the ranks.

Mohamed Salah, AFCON, FPL wildcard, Premier League
Mohamed Salah is the best Premier League player heading to AFCON

6th – Wolves

Absentee severity score: 11

Players missing: Hwang Hee-Chan, South Korea (Asian Cup), Rayan Ait-Nouri, Algeria & Boubacar Traore, Mali (both AFCON)

Fixtures definitely missing: Brighton (A), Manchester Utd (H)

Fixtures potentially missing: Chelsea (A), Brentford (H)

I’m going to say something that was inconceivable at the beginning of the season, only four players have more goals up to this point (gameweek 16) than Wolves’ Hwang. The South Korean has been in richly prosperous form. Of all their January absentees, his presence will be missed most sorely, especially considerWhere will their goals come from?

5th – Brighton & Hove Albion

Player absentee score: 12

Players missing: Kaoru Mitoma, Japan (Asian Cup), Carles Baleba, Cameroon, Simon Adingra, Ivory Coast & Tariq Lamptey, Ghana (all AFCON)

Fixtures definitely missing: Wolves (H), Luton (A)

Fixtures potentially missing: Crystal Palace (H), Spurs (A)

Roberto De Zerbi’s side have been decimated by injuries. Case and point, Lamptey, who’s fitness for AFCOn isn’t confirmed yet. With a foray into European and higher expectations meaning progression deep into domestic cup competitions is encouraged, losing the players they will could seriously hurt Brighton.

4th – Brentford 

Player absentee score: 12

Players missing: Yoane Wissa, DR Congo, Bryan Mbeumo, Cameroon & Frank Onyeka, Nigeria (all AFCON)

Fixtures definitely missing: Forest (H), Spurs (A)

Fixtures potentially missing: City (A), Wolves (H)

What do you do when both your main attackers and a midfield anchor depart for a month to represent their nation? For Thomas Frank, not much. He loses much of his goalscoring prowess without Mbeumo who’s breakout year has seen him involved in 11 of Brentford’s 23 goals (up to gameweek 16).

Ivan Toney’s return mid-January probably eases some of these goalscoring woes. However, whether he is match fit and firing, and even at the club, remains to be seen. This is an anxiety-inducing prospect with a fully fledged Manchester City side on the cards during this window.

Mbeumo Brent image
Both Frank Onyeka (left) and Bryan Mbeumo (right) will be heading to AFCON

3rd – Everton

Player absentee score: 12

Players missing: Abdoulaye Doucoure (Mali) & Idrissa Gueye (Senegal) (all AFCON)

Fixtures definitely missing: Villa (A), Fulham (H)

Fixtures potentially missing: Spurs (A), Manchester City (H)

You’ve got to feel sorry for Everton. They’re in the trenches at the moment having found themselves in an unexpected relegation thanks in large part to a harsh Premier League points deduction.

With this, and their slim resources, in mind, and considering games against a full strength Manchester City and Aston Villa, Everton cannot afford to be without their top scorer, Doucoure, and their midfield insurance policy, Gueye.

They have no wriggle room, these absences, and those fixtures, could make for a cataclysmic month for Sean Dyche.

2nd – Spurs

Player absentee score: 13

Players missing: Heung-Min Son, South Korea (Asian Cup), Yves Bissouma, Mali & Pape Matar Sarr, Senegal (both AFCON)

Fixtures definitely missing: Manchester Utd (A), Brentford (H)

Fixtures potentially missing: Everton (A), Brighton (H)

Ange Postecoglou’s Spurs side isn’t deep by any means, we’ve seen that in recent weeks. Maddison and Van de Ven might be back by then, but who is Maddison’s creativity going to feed if not for Son?

And who is going to shield Spurs’ back four if not Sarr and Bissouma? Without Bentancur absent through injury, Spurs are without their most press resistant player in Bissouma, who is arguably the fulcrum of their side, the midfield metronome they need to keep everything else knitted together.

1st – Nottingham Forest

Player absentee score: 18

Players missing: Willy Boly (Ivory Coast), Serge Aurier (Ivory Coast), Ola Aina (Nigeria), Taiwo Awoniyi (Nigeria), Cheikhou Kouyate (Senegal) & Ibrahim Sangare (Ivory Coast) (all AFCON)

Fixtures definitely missing: Brentford (A), Arsenal (H)

Fixtures potentially missing: Bournemouth (A), Newcastle (H)

Six players! Six players! That’s how many absentees Nottingham Forest will have to contend with come the end of January. Given most of them are either locked on first team starters, or players who float in and around the first eleven, they are all crucial omissions for Steve Cooper.

These woes are compounded by both Arsenal and Newcastle on the fixture list, both of whom have limited outs to both tournaments. Not good news for Nottingham Forest, especially considering the potential for this run to drop them deeper into relegation dogfight.

Kyle Robbins
Kyle Robbins
Kyle is a senior sports writer and producer at Only Sports who lives and breathes sport, with a particular burning passion for everything soccer, rugby league, and cricket. You’ll most commonly find him getting overly hopeful about the Bulldogs and Chelsea’s prospects. Find Kyle on LinkedIn.

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