Which Premier League clubs will be most affected by the AFCON and which FOUR will escape unscathed
Planet Sport looks at the likely impact of the Africa Cup of Nations which, despite Jurgen Klopp’s misgivings, is set to disrupt one club far more than Liverpool.
Those are the words of Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, when asked back in November if he was relieved that there were no international breaks to contend with until March.
Although Klopp subsequently clarified his comments as irony, they did expose the underlying frustration of many top-flight managers with the decision to host international tournaments in the middle of the domestic season.
With only Leeds, Newcastle, Norwich, and Tottenham set to be unaffected by AFCON, Planet Sport dives into the statistics of the remaining clubs to find out who stands to lose the most from the tournament.
Players possibly missing: Thomas Partey (Ghana), Mohamed Elneny (Egypt), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Nicolas Pepe (Ivory Coast)
It's the attacking side of Arsenal that will become somewhat lean during AFCON, with the Gunners losing two midfielders and two forwards, the joint-second-most of any club.
The better news for Mikel Arteta, though, is that between them, the quartet have only accounted for five Premier League goals and three assists this season, representing just 18.5% of their league goals and 15.8% of their assists. No need to bring Gunnersaurus on up front just yet.
Players possibly missing: Mahmoud Trezeguet (Egypt), Bertrand Traore (Burkina Faso), Marvelous Nakamba (Zimbabwe)
Villa are another side who, on first glance, look to be losing a decent chunk of their attacking output, with two midfielders and a forward heading out to the tournament. But again, the numbers show there is little to be too worried about for new boss Steven Gerrard.
Players possibly missing: Julian Jeanvier (Guinea), Frank Onyeka (Nigeria), Tariqe Fosu-Henry (Ghana)
It's a similar situation at the Premier League's newest club, with Brentford missing out on the services of two midfielders and a defender, but again, Thomas Frank won't be losing sleep over the situation.
Players possibly missing: Yves Bissouma (Mali)
From three clubs each losing at least three players, we come to Brighton, who are losing just one. However, this one is far more of a blow. At the heart of their midfield, Bissouma has been one of the Seagulls' best and most consistent performers.
He has made 12 league appearances this season, marshalling the defence with an average of three tackles and 1.9 interceptions per game, and even popped up with an assist in the early stages back in August. Just two other midfielders have played more minutes than his 1,033, and Graham Potter will very much need a contingency.
Players possibly missing: Maxwel Cornet (Ivory Coast)
Burnley too will lose just one player, but again his absence will be heavily felt at Turf Moor. Cornet was signed for just under £13million from Lyon in the summer, and the 25-year-old winger has more than paid that back by becoming the club's top scorer this season.
Were you to remove all his goals, Sean Dyche's men would lose more than a quarter of their points, and would be bottom of the Premier League. Cornet is going to be a big loss.
Players possibly missing: Edouard Mendy (Senegal), Hakim Ziyech (Morocco)
Come the start of AFCON, Thomas Tuchel will find himself having to grapple with the unique situation of being the only Premier League manager to lose a goalkeeper to the tournament. To make it even worse, said goalkeeper is among the best in the top flight.
Chelsea's embarrassment of riches means they will have plenty of cover for the latter, but whether the famously gaffe-prone Kepa Arrizabalaga can adequately cover for Mendy is more under question.
Players possibly missing: Cheikhou Kouyate (Senegal), Jeffrey Schlupp, Jordan Ayew (Ghana), Wilfried Zaha (Ivory Coast)
Palace are the second London club who will potentially be sending four players to AFCON, but unlike neighbours Arsenal, they will feel the pinch somewhat as a result. The absence of wingers Ayew and Zaha will blunt their attack, while midfielder Kouyate has been instrumental in the middle of the park.
Zaha is frequently described as Palace's talisman, and indeed is their second-highest goalscorer this season with five. When his, Ayew's, and Schlupp's strikes are all taken out, the Eagles lose 29.2% of their goals and 15% of their points. Kouyate hasn't scored yet, but has contributed an assist and is a useful defensive asset with 1.6 interceptions per 90 this season. It's a big headscratcher for Patrick Vieira.
Players possibly missing: Jean-Philippe Gbamin (Ivory Coast), Alex Iwobi (Nigeria)
It's probably fair to say that Rafael Benitez has enough on his plate without having to plan for a mass exodus thanks to AFCON. Fortunately for him, the pair that will be temporarily departing Goodison in January are hardly instrumental players.
Players possibly missing: Daniel Amartey (Ghana), Nampalys Mendy (Senegal), Wilfred Ndidi, Kelechi Iheanacho (Nigeria)
Ndidi has played 12 games for Brendan Rodgers' side this season, with his main contributions being in defence; replacing 3.5 tackles and 2.2 interceptions per game is not easy. Iheanacho is the only member of the quartet to find the net this season, but has done so only once. Amartey, meanwhile, has had little to shout about during his seven starts, but his passing success of 87.1% does mark him out as the third-best at the club in that regard.
Players possibly missing: Mohamed Salah (Egypt), Naby Keita (Guinea), Sadio Mane (Senegal)
While particularly harsh, Klopp's very negative attitude to AFCON may perhaps be slightly understood by the fact that two of the trio whom the Reds will lose are among their megastars, and the third is a very capable back-up. Fans should brace themselves for a few grumpy interviews from the Liverpool boss in January.
Salah has once again shown himself to be a class apart this season, netting 15 goals as the league's top marksman alongside nine assists, and his total represents 30% of all the Reds' goals and 23.7% of their assists. The situation is even bleaker when combined with Mane and Keita's numbers too, rising to 48% of their goals and 28.9% of their assists. January will be chastening, and a very real challenge to title hopes on Merseyside.
Players possibly missing: Riyad Mahrez (Algeria)
For all City's riches and squad depth, they in fact come out as one of the luckier sides in January, losing just one player to AFCON. Pep Guardiola will be counting his blessings that no other members of his exceptionally talented squad are African.
The man in question is winger Riyad Mahrez, and he has made 14 appearances this season for a total of 662 minutes. That does make him one of the lesser-used players at City, but in that time he has still been able to contribute four goals and three assists, representing 9.1% of their goals and 10.3% of their assists.
Players possibly missing: Eric Bailly, Amad Diallo (Ivory Coast)
Across Manchester, City's rivals United also come out of AFCON relatively unscathed; they do potentially lose two players, but only one has actually played in the league this season. With a new - and competent - manager in Ralf Rangnick, a favourable fixture list, and some AFCON luck, things are very much looking up at Old Trafford.
Players possibly missing: Moussa Djenepo (Mali), Mohammed Salisu (Ghana)
The two Saints who will be marching away to AFCON have had contrasting impacts on Ralph Hasenhuttl's team this season. Centre-back Salisu has been among the best Southampton performers this season, while winger Djenepo has struggled to make much of an impact and will be more easily covered for come January.
Players possibly missing: Emmanuel Dennis, Peter Etebo, William Troost-Ekong (Nigeria), Adam Masina (Morocco), Ismaila Sarr (Senegal)
The Hornets will be truly stung by AFCON, losing five players, which is the most of any side. Of the Nigerian trio, Dennis is the immediate standout, and as Watford's top scorer this season, his absence will be keenly felt. Removing his seven goals and five assists, which represent 33.3% of the goals and 31.3% of the assists at Vicarage Road, would see the Hornets robbed of seven points, or a massive 53.8% of their total. It is in fact the case that without the contributions of Dennis or Sarr, who also has five goals, Watford would still be winless.
Players possibly missing: Said Benrahma (Algeria)
Fortunately for David Moyes, it's a far easier tale in east London than in the north-west of the capital, with his resurgent West Ham having little to worry about in January, as only Benrahma heads off to AFCON. That's not to say he won't be missed, but the Hammers should have enough cover.
Benrahma has played at least some part in all of West Ham's games this season, and Moyes will need to find a way to replace his three goals and three assists - or 10.7% and 14.3%, respectively, if we're talking in the percentages we've got used to by now. He's not been West Ham's absolute best, but he is definitely in their strongest XI, so the extent to which they suffer won't be catastrophic, but it might be interesting.
Players possibly missing: Romain Saiss (Morocco), Willy Boly (Ivory Coast)
Our final stop on this tour brings us to the West Midlands, where we discover that Wolves will become the fifth side to lose two players. Both are centre-backs, and although only one has actually played in the league this season, that fact means we could still see a bit of a spike in the number of goals shipped at Molineux in January.