Afcon and Asia Cup can swing title race in favour of Manchester City and Aston Villa

Takehiro Tomiyasu up against Mohamed Salah during Arsenal's win over Liverpool

With the majority of players already off for this month’s Africa Cup of Nations and Asian Cup, the impact will be felt throughout the coming weeks across the Premier League.

Teams vying for the title race will be scrambling to fill the holes left by key players while those without little or no absentees will be aiming to take advantage. Likewise for the relegation battle.

But how do the fixtures fall?

Here Telegraph Sport takes a look at how both tournaments will affect every Premier League side for the next month.


Players missing: Takehiro Tomiyasu (Japan), Mohamed Elneny (Egypt)
Fixtures: Liverpool (FA Cup), Crystal Palace, Nottingham Forest, Liverpool, West Ham United
Rating: 6/10

The loss of Tomiyasu is a bigger blow to Mikel Arteta than the absence of Elneny, who is a valued squad member but not a key player. Tomiyasu’s versatility in defence makes him hugely important to Arsenal and they will certainly miss him, especially as they are already struggling with injuries in defence. The prospect of Tomiyasu missing two games against Liverpool will be a source of particular irritation for Arteta.

In more positive news for Arsenal, Thomas Partey was not selected by Ghana due to his thigh injury. This will allow Arsenal to maintain control of his rehabilitation and, depending on the speed of his recovery, could mean that he is able to return to the team in the coming weeks.

Aston Villa

Players missing: Bertrand Traore (Burkino Faso)
Fixtures: Everton, Newcastle, Sheffield United, Manchester United
Rating: 1/10

Given he has featured in just 43 minutes in all competitions so far this season, will Aston Villa fans even notice that Traore is not around for the next month? Will Unai Emery? Not unless he suffers an unimaginable injury crisis between now and February. The main source of irritation is probably that there is little chance of Villa being able to offload Traore during the January transfer window while he is away on international duty. The 28-year-old expected to see out his contract and leave for free at the end of the season.

On the more positive side, a decent tournament might mean Emery is more tempted to use him in the final months of the season. Given how sparingly he has been tempted to do so thus far, that may be a straw-clutching exercise. On the flip side, Villa play a couple of sides who will lose key players.


Players missing: Dango Ouattara (Burkina Faso), Antoine Semenyo (Ghana)
Fixtures: QPR (FA Cup), Liverpool, West Ham United, Nottingham Forest, Fulham
Rating: 7/10

The loss of Semenyo, who has started seven of the past eight league games for Bournemouth, is undoubtedly a blow. With three goals this season, Semenyo is Bournemouth’s joint-second top scorer. Ouattara has been less important this season but he has started the past three matches for Andoni Iraola’s side.

It has not helped Bournemouth that both players usually operate in wide areas, which means that Iraola will have fewer options than usual. This could be good news, though, for the likes of Luis Sinisterra and Justin Kluivert. Sinisterra has started only two games this season and will hope to establish himself as an important player in the coming weeks.


Players missing: Frank Onyeka (Nigeria), Yoane Wissa (DR Congo), Saman Ghoddos (Iran), Kim Ji-soo (South Korea)
Fixtures: Wolves (FA Cup), Nottingham Forest, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, Wolves
Rating: 8/10

Brentford are already dealing with an injury crisis, so the last thing they need is to lose three important players to international duty. Bryan Mbeumo’s serious ankle issue makes the forthcoming absence of fellow striker Wissa (scorer of four goals this season) even more painful. Wissa has started all but one league game this season.

Ghoddos, meanwhile, has started the past seven games for Brentford. Onyeka is less fundamental but is still a useful option for manager Thomas Frank. Kim is currently a B-team player.

The blow of losing Wissa, along with the ongoing absence of Mbeumo, will be softened by the imminent return to action of Ivan Toney. The England striker’s suspension ends on Jan 17 and Brentford need him to hit the ground running.


Players missing: Simon Adingra (Ivory Coast), Kaoru Mitoma (Japan)
Fixtures: Stoke City (FA Cup), Wolves, Luton Town, Crystal Palace, Tottenham Hotspur
Rating: 8/10

Brighton are already in the midst of an injury crisis so the loss of two important wingers could hardly come at a worse time. That said, both Mitoma and Adingra are already absent through fitness issues and would be unavailable for the next few games anyway.

Indeed, there is some surprise that Mitoma has been included in Japan’s squad. Brighton’s medical staff initially concluded that he would need up to six weeks to recover from the injury he suffered on Dec 21. But Hajime Moriyasu, Japan’s manager, has said he expects Mitoma to be available soon.

Japan are the favourites to win the Asian Cup. If they go all the way, Mitoma will be away until mid-February.

With five goals and three assists in all competitions this season, Adingra has shown why he is so highly rated by Brighton. The 22-year-old made his debut for the Ivory Coast in 2023 and will hope to establish himself as a key player for his country.


Players missing: None 
Fixtures: Spurs (FA Cup), Luton, Man City, Fulham, Liverpool
Rating: 0/10

Vincent Kompany praised the decision from South Africa to leave Lyle Foster out of their squad, calling it a “sensible” decision as the striker is not ready to travel due to mental-health issues. He was included in a preliminary squad for the tournament before being omitted. Anass Zaroury was called into Morocco’s squad for the World Cup in 2022 as injury cover for the eventual semi-finalists, but will not be travelling to Afcon with his country. Kompany will be working with his usual group of players as tries to plot a path to Premier League survival in January and February.


Players missing: Nicolas Jackson (Senegal
Fixtures: Preston (FA Cup), Boro (EFL Cup), Fulham, Boro (EFL Cup), Liverpool, Wolves, Palace
Rating: 4/10

When Jackson was substituted against Wolves on Christmas Eve there were cheers from the Chelsea fans. The Senegal striker has frustrated at times since his summer move from Villarreal in a £32 million deal. But what he does is provide a No 9 presence when he plays for Mauricio Pochettino, which is the balance that his team desperately needs. He has eight goals this season and when it clicks, like it did against Tottenham, he is dangerous. Cole Palmer or Raheem Sterling as a false-nine is now an option, or turn to Armando Broja.

Crystal Palace

Players missing: Jordan Ayew (Ghana)
Fixtures: Everton (FA Cup), Arsenal, Sheffield United, Brighton, Chelsea 
Rating: 6/10

Ayew has never been the most thrilling winger but he is certainly effective for Palace, who rely on his ability to attract fouls and drag the team up the pitch. It is a measure of Ayew’s importance to Roy Hodgson that he has started all but two league games this season, contributing two goals and six assists.

With Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze now back in the team after injury problems, Palace should still have plenty of attacking firepower without Ayew. The 32-year-old’s absence could also open the door for young Matheus Franca, who joined in the summer in a deal that could eventually be worth £26 million. Franca, 19, is yet to start a match for his new club.


Players missing: Idrissa Gana Gueye (Senegal)
Fixtures: Aston Villa, Fulham, Tottenham, Manchester City
Rating: 6/10

Sean Dyche is hardly flush with high-energy, ball-winning midfielders, so losing Gueye for a month will mean Amadou Onana’s fitness is critical. Onana has looked more comfortable in a holding role, so it could be a blessing in disguise if he can add consistency and tactical discipline to his game. Nevertheless, Gueye’s experience has been a feature of the Goodison revival and after a tricky Christmas period Everton will miss him.

After four consecutive wins, they have suffered a trio of Premier League defeats to ensure they are still in a relegation battle. And unlike their rivals at the bottom, they are not in a position to splash the cash to get out of trouble. A thin squad can ill afford to lose any of its guaranteed starters. Gueye has already missed a few games this season due to injury so it is not completely new territory.


Players missing: Calvin Bassey (Nigeria), Alex Iwobi (Nigeria), Fode Ballo-Toure (Senegal)
Fixtures: Rotherham (FA Cup), Liverpool (League Cup), Chelsea, Liverpool (League Cup), Everton, Burnley, Bournemouth
Rating: 8/10

Bassey produced a sensational defensive performance in Fulham’s last game, their impressive 2-1 win over Arsenal, and will certainly be missed by manager Marco Silva. The centre-back has grown into this season and has become one of the first names on the team sheet: he has started 13 of the past 14 matches.

Fellow Nigerian Iwobi is also enjoying a fine first campaign at Craven Cottage, following his deadline-day move from Everton. Iwobi has scored four goals for Fulham - only top scorer Raul Jimenez has found the net more often this season.

Full-back Ballo-Toure is less of a loss for Silva’s side. He has not started in the Premier League this season, following his arrival on loan from AC Milan in the summer.

The timing of the Afcon is especially irritating for Fulham because they have a two-legged League Cup semi-final against Liverpool on the horizon.


Players missing: Mohamed Salah (Egypt), Wataru Endo (Japan)
Fixtures: Arsenal (FA Cup) Bournemouth, Fulham (Carabao Cup, two legs), Chelsea, Arsenal, Burnley 
Rating: 9/10

Given Liverpool must cope without one of the greatest African footballers of all time, the timing of this international tournament is a cause for celebration for Liverpool’s title rivals and especially Arsenal, who face them twice in a few weeks. Jurgen Klopp must keep the goal machine generating without its main power source, consoled by Diogo Jota’s return.

It is not just Salah who will be missed this month at Anfield. With respect to Japan, if they go out of the Asia Cup early the red carpet will be rolled out for the improving Endo upon his return to Premier League duty. Alex Mac Allister will resume anchorman duties in his absence. The only consolation for Klopp is that by the end of February he should be able to use a fully match-conditioned Endo and Mac Allister in the same line-up. It has gone under the radar how deprived of key players Klopp has been this season. They have dealt with it so far. This month may be their biggest challenge.

Luton Town

Players missing: Issa Kabore (Burkina Faso)
Fixtures: Bolton (FA Cup), Burnley, Brighton, Newcastle United, Sheffield United
Rating: 6/10

Kabore has impressed for Luton this season after joining the club on loan from Manchester City in the summer. The 22-year-old has started 13 matches in the Premier League. Luton should be able to cope without him but it is unfortunate for manager Rob Edwards that Kabore could be absent for the crucial meetings with fellow relegation candidates Burnley and Sheffield United (depending on Burkina Faso’s progress).

At the 2021 Afcon, Kabore was named the tournament’s best young player after helping his nation to a fourth-place finish.

Manchester City

Players missing: None
Fixtures: Huddersfield (FA Cup), Newcastle, Burnley, Brentford, Everton
Rating: 0/10

Business as usual at the Etihad Campus this month. Pep Guardiola likes to work with a tight squad and he could not have afforded to lose numbers, but the Treble-winners will not lose a player this month as they look to make up ground in the title race. This would have been different in the days of Yaya Toure bossing the midfield for City as his country, Ivory Coast, will host Afcon for the next month.

Manchester United

Players missing: Sofyan Amrabat (Morocco), Andre Onana (Cameroon)
Fixtures: Wigan (FA Cup), Spurs, Wolves, West Ham, Villa 
Rating: 6/10

On the one hand Onana has been so inconsistent and his errors have cost United points, so seeing a team without him may not be a bad thing. On the other hand, he is important to how Erik ten Hag’s team play out from the back with his range of passing. Ten Hag has been loyal to the Cameroon goalkeeper that he worked with at Ajax, so the only absence is enforced. Turkey goalkeeper Altay Bayındır was bought in the summer from Fenerbahce as cover and this will be his chance. Amrabat has hardly been a match-winner for United since arriving on loan. Amad Diallo has confirmed he is not travelling to be part of the Ivory Coast squad, while Hannibal Mejbri wants to focus on his club career rather than play for Tunisia.

Newcastle United

Players missing: None
Fixtures: Manchester City, Aston Villa, Luton Town, Nottingham Forest
Rating: 0/10

Eddie Howe’s luck is in. Newcastle are one of the few clubs who will not curse the international calendar as they have no African or Asian players in their squad. By a quirk of the fixture list, their next two Premier League games are also against sides with minimal disruption, Manchester City and Villa’s starting line-ups not suffering any disruption.

Nottingham Forest

Players missing: Serge Aurier (Ivory Coast), Willy Boly (Ivory Coast), Ibrahim Sangare (Ivory Coast), Ola Aina (Nigeria), Cheikou Kouyate (Senegal), Moussa Niakhate (Senegal) 
Fixtures: Brentford, Arsenal, Bournemouth, Newcastle United
Rating: 8/10

Nuno Espirito Santo must be relieved he has a 100-man squad, given he is losing half a team for a month. Nuno said upon his appointment he wanted to trim the squad. This was not what he had in mind. The nightmare scenario for Forest fans is an Ivory Coast versus Senegal final, as Boly, Sangare and Niakhate will be especially missed. The fixture list is not especially kind either, given Arsenal are affected only a little and Newcastle are not disturbed at all by the Africa Cup of Nations. There may not be much sympathy for Forest, though. To have six African players in the senior squad when it is known how often and when the Afcon is played does not reflect well on their recruiters’ planning department. Recent form suggests Nuno should still have enough to keep his side away from the bottom three, however, and he will feel like the cavalry has returned by February.

Sheffield United

Players missing: Yasser Larouci (Algeria), Anis Ben Slimane (Tunisia)
Fixtures: Gillingham (FA Cup), West Ham, Palace, Villa, Luton 
Rating: 4/10

Chris Wilder may not be losing two players who have been ever-present this season but, with a survival bid on his hands, all players will be needed so losing Larouci and Slimane will have an impact. Larouci, who will play for Algeria, has started in only two Premier League matches but they did end up as valuable points against Everton and Aston Villa. Tunisia midfielder Slimane was in Wilder’s line-up for two of the final three games before Afcon so was firmly in the manager’s plans, even if most of his action this season has been off the bench. Ismaila Coulibaly was not selected for Mali.

Tottenham Hotspur

Players missing: Son Heung-min (South Korea), Pape Sarr (Senegal), Yves Bissouma (Mali)
Fixtures: Burnley (FA Cup), Manchester United, Brentford, Everton, Brighton
Rating: 9/10

These could be a challenging few weeks for Spurs. With 12 goals and five assists this season, Son has been comfortably their most effective attacker. He appears to be back to his best and his quality in the final third, as well as his defensive effort off the ball, has so often set the tone for Ange Postecoglou’s side. South Korea are tipped to go far in the Asian Cup, too, so Son could be away for a while.

It is also a considerable blow to lose both Sarr and Bissouma. They have been crucial this season and, when everyone is fit, they arguably make up two-thirds of Postecgolou’s first-choice midfield three. The return to fitness of Rodrigo Bentancur will help in their absence but Spurs will be short of midfield power until they come back to London.

West Ham United

Players missing: Mohammed Kudus (Ghana), Nayef Aguerd (Morocco)
Fixtures they could miss: Bristol City (FA Cup), Sheffield United, Bournemouth, Manchester United, Arsenal
Rating: 8/10

Kudus has been one of the signings of the season, with his £38 million move from Ajax already looking like a bargain. In all competitions, Kudus has reached 10 goals for the campaign. His connection with Lucas Paqueta has quickly become one of West Ham’s most powerful weapons.

Just as Kudus is a key man in West Ham’s attack, so is Aguerd in their defence. West Ham do have quality cover in the centre-back position, though. In recent weeks there have been impressive performances from Konstantinos Mavropanos and Angelo Ogbonna.

Of the two players, Kudus will be harder to live without. West Ham will need Paqueta and Jarrod Bowen to shoulder even more of the attacking burden.


Players out: Rayan Ait-Nouri (Algeria), Boubacar Traore (Mali), Hwang Hee-chan (South Korea), Justin Hubner (Indonesia)
Fixtures: Brentford (FA Cup), Brighton, Man Utd, Chelsea, Brentford 
Rating: 7/10

Gary O’Neil has pulled off miracles this season and it will be another test of his coaching capabilities to cope without key forward Hwang when he goes to the Asia Cup with South Korea. Hwang is most dangerous in the centre-forward role but has played right across the front line. It will be down to Matheus Cunha to lead the attack in his absence. Ait-Nouri going to Afcon with Algeria will be another huge miss. The wing-back finds plenty of space on the left flank and is an important player, starting in Wolves’ three consecutive wins before heading off to international duty. Traore was also rewarded for his progress at Molineux with a call-up to the Mali squad. Academy centre-back Hubner has the chance to make a name for himself with Indonesia at the Asia Cup.