The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations kicks off on January 9 in Cameroon, with the final almost a month later on February 6.
With African players fulfilling key roles at many top European clubs, whose domestic seasons will continue during the tournament, some absences will be keenly felt.
To work out which clubs’ campaigns will be the most heavily disrupted, we have added up the league minutes played and goals scored so far this season by players who represent one of the 24 countries heading to AFCON 2021.
With the squads for the competition yet to be announced, we have included every player who has appeared in a World Cup qualifying match since 2020.
These totals will grow further between now and January but they already give us a good sense of which managers will need to change their line-ups in the new year.
Starting in England, the most high-profile absences will be two of Liverpool’s world-class front three. The Reds’ title challenge will surely falter without Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, who currently sit first and second in the goalscoring charts.
Further down the table, Claudio Ranieri’s task of steering Watford clear of relegation danger will be made more difficult in January with five of his players potentially heading to the tournament.
Senegal winger Ismaila Sarr’s influence up front will be particularly difficult to replicate.
Meanwhile, Crystal Palace’s momentum under Patrick Vieira will surely be disrupted if the Ivory Coast have a good tournament with Wilfried Zaha in their squad.
In Spain, Sevilla will have to manage without the goals of Youssef En-Nesyri and the saves of his Morocco team-mate Yassine Bonou, their first-choice goalkeeper.
Newly-promoted Mallorca have steered clear of the relegation battle so far, but the absence of Ghanaian Iddrisu Baba – who has been a regular feature in their midfield – could see them drift down the table.
Napoli have been by far the most reliant on African talent in Serie A this season, with Senegalese central defender Kalilou Koulibaly particularly difficult to replace.
Further up the pitch is Cameroon’s Andre-Franck Zambo Anguissa and ahead of him prolific new signing Victor Osimhen, whose goals will be missed if he is selected by Nigeria.
The Milan midfield will also look less formidable without rising Ivorian star Franck Kessie patrolling it.
Taiwo Awoniyi’s goals have been keeping Union Berlin competitive in the German top flight this season, so a call-up by Nigeria could see them start to struggle.
Meanwhile, Leverkusen and Hoffenheim have each given over 1,000 league minutes to African players who could be unavailable in January.
The centre of Leverkusen’s defence will look very different without Ivory Coast’s Odilon Kossounou or Edmond Tapsoba of Burkina Faso to call upon.
The French league will be the hardest-hit by African absences, with Metz potentially losing almost a whole starting line-up worth of players.
Captain Dylan Bronn of Tunisia would be one of the hardest to replace. Saint-Etienne are in relegation trouble at the moment and losing top scorer Wahbi Khazri – another Tunisian star – for a run of games would surely exacerbate the problem.
We are already witnessing a close title race in the Netherlands this season and Ajax’s challenge may suffer in the absence of Sebastian Haller if the Ivory Coast requires his services.
Haller has reignited his career at Ajax, scoring regularly in both the Eredivisie and Champions League.
At the other end of the table, Sparta may find themselves slipping further into relegation danger without their young Nigerian goalkeeper Maduka Okoye.
First Division A
Charleroi are getting back to their best after a poor showing in the Belgian top flight last season, but their recovery could be undermined if Burkina Faso have a good tournament this winter.
Goalkeeper Herve Koffi is first choice for both club and country while young Algerian midfielder Adem Zorgane has recently broken into the defending champions’ first team.
Further East, Genk have relied heavily on Paul Onuachu’s goals this season, so if Nigeria come calling in January then their attacking output will surely suffer.
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