Football Features

Which Premier League club will lose the most players to Afcon 2023?

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 15:55, 2 January 2024

International tournament football takes centre stage when the 2023 AFC Asian Cup gets underway in Qatar.

And a day later on January 13, just under 4,000 miles away, hosts Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau kick off the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.

With how globalised football has become across the last three decades, European clubs will be missing notable talent with all but three Premier League teams having at least one player represented in the competition.

Burnley, Manchester City and Newcastle are those unaffected but of the remaining who is going to be hit the hardest when it comes to absentees?

Missing one

  • Arsenal (Mohamed Elneny)
  • Aston Villa (Bertrand Traoré)
  • Brighton & Hove Albion (Simon Adingra)
  • Chelsea (Nicolas Jackson)
  • Crystal Palace (Jordan Ayew)
  • Everton (Idrissa Gueye)
  • Liverpool (Mohamed Salah)
  • Luton (Issa Kabore)

At least seven clubs will be missing one player when the group phase of the tournament begins. Among them is Liverpool, who will be without their top scorer and inspirational talisman, Mohamed Salah.

This will be Salah’s fourth Africa Cup of Nations tournament. Egypt, the most successful team in competition history with seven titles, will be among the favourites. However, they have not won since 2010 and have recently lost in the finals twice, in 2017 and 2021. Additionally Liverpool lose midfield ever-present Wataru Endo to the Asian Cup.

Arsenal will also be without one player, though Mohamed Elneny has amassed a total of one minute in the Premier League this season. Like Endo, Takehiro Tomiyasu will represent Japan at the Asian Cup.

Everton will be missing Idrissa Gueye, who is joining Chelsea forward Nicolas Jackson in the Senegal squad, as they aim to win back-to-back championships. Aston Villa, though, will not feel Burkina Faso forward Bertrand Traoré’s temporary departure as he’s seldom featured under Unai Emery this season.

Simon Adingra has been in good form for Brighton & Hove Albion recently and his absence will be apparent. He is part of a strong Ivory Coast delegation and the hosts will be under pressure to follow in the Drogba-Toure generation’s footsteps. Much to Roberto De Zerbi’s surprise, Kaoru Mitoma will depart for Japan’s Asian Cup campaign despite the assessment of Brighton’s medical team, who say he is not fit enough to take part.

An ever-present under Roy Hodgson this season, Jordan Ayew’s departure will be a frustrating one for Crystal Palace. Issa Kabore will be absent for Luton while he represents Burkina Faso.

Double trouble

  • Brentford (Frank Onyeka, Yoane Wissa)
  • Bournemouth (Antoine Semenyo, Dango Ouattara)
  • Man Utd (André Onana, Sofyan Amrabat)
  • Sheffield United (Yasser Larouci, Anis Ben Slimane)
  • Tottenham (Pape Matar Sarr, Yves Bissouma)
  • West Ham (Mohammed Kudus, Nayef Aguerd)
  • Wolves (Rayan Aït-Nouri, Boubacar Traore)

Two of Manchester United’s summer signings are set to leave, and both players represent national teams with a strong history of success. Sofyan Amrabat played a crucial role in Morocco’s journey to the World Cup semi-final in late 2022, marking the first time an African team had achieved this feat. Meanwhile, despite struggling at Old Trafford, Andre Onana has proven to be a match-winner for Cameroon, who have been crowned champions and finished third in recent years.

Tottenham is currently facing an injury crisis and the upcoming Afcon 2023 will not be making things any better for them — especially with Son Heung-min away on Asian Cup duty. They lose Pape Matar Sarr and Yves Bissouma, who has become a crucial player under coach Ange Postecoglou. However, Bissouma’s home nation, Mali, is not expected to be a major contender in the tournament.

Joining Palace’s Ayew in the Ghana squad is Mohammed Kudus. Bad timing for West Ham, who are seeing the very best of Kudus and David Moyes will also say goodbye for now to Nayef Aguerd, who consistently turns out for the Hammers. There was a boost, with Said Benrahma not called up for Algeria’s squad — though he is linked with a move away.

Continuing the Ghana trend is Bournemouth forward Antoine Semenyo; a member of the Black Stars team, he’ll be eager to help them end a long wait to be crowned African champions. Dango Outtara is another Cherry at the tournament, representing Burkina Faso.

Rayan Aït-Nouri is another whose absence shouldn’t hurt considering Wolves’ use of him. To date, he’s completed the full 90 minutes across three of his 14 outings, and not long ago he was left out of Gary O’Neil’s squad for three straight games. Boubacar Traore has played 382 minutes for Wolves across 12 appearances in the league this season, so won’t be much of a miss either if he makes Mali’s final squad.

When you’re in a relegation battle, you don’t really want to be losing two players to international duty. But Sheffield United should manage okay without Yasser Larouci and Anis Ben Slimane, both of whom have had periphery roles this season. A bigger blow will be felt by Brentford, as they will have to steady their ship without Frank Onyeka and Yoane Wissa. The Bees’ top scorer Bryan Mbeumo would likely have travelled with Cameroon but ruled out with injury till February.

Three is a crowd

  • Fulham (Calvin Bassey, Alex Iwobi, Fode Ballo-Toure)

Fulham are without three players due to Afcon duty, two of which will represent Nigeria. The Super Eagles have flattered to deceive since winning their third championship in 2013, including failing to qualify twice. Calvin Bassey and Alex Iwobi were recruited ahead of the 2023/24 season with both starting tentatively before establishing themselves in Marco Silva’s starting lineup. Elsewhere, Fode Ballo-Toure has been called up for Senegal, but hasn’t been in favour with Silva this season.

Let’s talk about six baby

  • Nottingham Forest (Serge Aurier, Willy Boly, Ibrahim Sangaré, Moussa Niakhaté, Cheikhou Kouyaté, Ola Aina)

In terms of quantity, Nottingham Forest’s Afcon contingent are out on their own. Newly installed boss Nuno Espírito Santo will say goodbye to a sextet of players before they jet off for international duty. And they are by no means fringe players, with Ivory Coast trio Serge Aurier, Willy Boly, Ibrahim Sangaré, Senegal duo Moussa Niakhaté, Cheikhou Kouyaté and Nigeria’s Ola Aina prominently featuring whenever available to be selected.

When will the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations take place?

The delayed 34th edition of the Afcon kicks off on January 13 as reigning champions Senegal look to defend their crown in Ivory Coast, who are hosting for the second time and first since 1984.

The group phase, in which 24 qualified teams are split into six groups of four, concludes on 24 January 2024.

  • Group A: Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau
  • Group B: Egypt, Ghana, Cape Verde, Mozambique
  • Group C: Senegal, Cameroon, Guinea, The Gambia
  • Group D: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Angola
  • Group E: Tunisia, Mali, South Africa, Namibia
  • Group F: Morocco, DR Congo, Zambia, Tanzania

The top two teams in each group and the four best-ranked third-placed teams will advance to the last 16, with quarter-finals, semi-finals, a match for third place and the final on 11 February 2024 to follow.