The African Cup of Nations gets cranked up on Saturday, and while an international tournament in the dead of winter is fun for soccer fans, it’s less than ideal for club sides.
There are 24 Premier League players that will be in Gabon for the tournament, and thus away from club sides. All of them will be missed in some way or another, but here are the five most impactful absentees:
5. Islam Slimani, Leicester — The Algerian forward has five goals and three assists in 13 Premier League matches for the Foxes this season.
He came to the defending champions on a £28 million move from Sporting Lisbon over the summer and has provided important striking depth behind the sometimes-injured, sometimes-banned Jamie Vardy.
4. Sadio Mane, Liverpool — After a £34 million move from Southampton in the summer, the Senegal man has become an important cog for Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.
He’s played in 19 league contests and has nine goals and four assists. “There is no player exactly like Sadio,” Klopp said. “But it is not a problem, we will find solutions.”
3. Eric Bailly, Manchester United — He came to Old Trafford after a £30 million transfer from Villarreal and quickly became a fixture at center half for Jose Mourinho.
He’s made 13 EPL appearances for the Red Devils this season, but the Ivory Coast man still has plenty of energy in reserve.
2. Wilfried Zaha, Crystal Palace — The Ivory Coast winger has four goals and 16 assists for Crystal Palace in 19 league appearances this season.
With him featuring in all but one of its EPL matches, and Palace just one point above the drop zone, Zaha’s absence is going to be tough to overcome.
1. Riyad Mahrez, Leicester — The reigning African Player of the Year is taking his talents to the Algerian squad for the Cup of Nations, and it’s going to leave a large hole in Claudio Ranieri’s midfield.
He’s played in every league match to date for the Foxes, scoring three goals and picking up a pair of assists along the way.