Wilfried Bony (Stoke -> Ivory Coast)
It could as well be a definite end of Bony’s good days in the Premier League. The striker, who once looked like a powerhouse for Swansea, is now after one season of full-time bench warming at Manchester City and five, utterly fruitless months at Stoke. Ironically enough, it’s his old club that allowed him to end his goal drought in October – but those were the only two goals he’s scored on English pitches this season. Already by the end of December, the Ivorian has been dropped in favour of the veteran Peter Crouch, who immediately netted three goals and one assist in three January matches, adding much more menace to The Potters’ attacks. And even though Stoke’s results have not been particularly great either way – it’s obvious that nobody at Britannia Stadium was too upset with Bony’s overseas voyage. I reckon it will now be difficult for him to win a starting XI spot back…
Negative impact: -2/10
Eric Bailly (Manchester United -> Ivory Coast)
José Mourinho isn’t completely faultless this season, but deserves major credit for dealing with Bailly’s absences in the heart of Red Devil’s defense. Already in October, the Ivorian centre-back suffered an injury, missed a full month worth of trainings and struggled to get back in form ever since. His few December performances have been fairly decent – but it was just after his departure for Gabon, when United picked three consecutive clean sheets. Mourinho pulled that off through examining all possible permutations of Marcos Rojo – Phil Jones – Chris Smalling partnerships. In the end, those three players have only allowed the opposition to score two goals in five matches: one, through Pogba-induced penalty and one, through Juan Mata’s own goal. With some kind fixtures around the corner, that good spell might continue – meaning that Bailly would be forced to watch more games from the bench.
Negative impact: 1/10
Idrissa Gueye (Everton -> Senegal)
By far the most surprising absentee. Following his transfer from Aston Villa, Gueye has proven himself indispensable at Everton. He now tops the league charts for tackles won (92) and Toffees’ charts for interceptions (44). The one time Ronald Koeman couldn’t play him due to a suspension – his team was mashed into a pulp by Chelsea. Having learnt from that shock, the Dutch boss braced himself for Gueye’s AFCON call-up by signing Morgan Schneiderlin from Manchester United. But needlessly! As it turned out, the club has coped well with an academy youngster Tom Davies and the veteran Gareth Barry, solidarily sharing the defensive responsibilities. Meanwhile, the man-in-question himself has topped his group with Senegal and will be facing Cameroon on Saturday. It seems that, baring some unpredictable fitness problems, Koeman will have a serious midfield selection problem in a couple of weeks…
Negative impact: 1/10
Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal -> Egypt)
It’s been a little over a year since Elneny’s arrival to Emirates – and his position in the Arsenal squad remains, at best, unstable. A frequent substitute and an occasional starter, he’s never cemented himself as a proper competition for the likes of Granit Xhaka, Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey. Alas: the performances like 3-3 at Bournemouth or a narrow, dramatic 2-1 win over Burnley, have proven that the Egyptian midfielder would stand a chance to make a name for himself. There’s just no other way to put it: his main squad rivals have all let down Arsène Wenger. In different circumstances, Ramsey’s poor touch and Xhaka’s recklessness displayed last week against the Clarets, might’ve paved the road for their colleague’s ascendancy. However, there’s only one problem: Elneny is still at AFCON, as his national team has topped the group D – all without conceding a single goal!
Negative impact: 3/10
Cheikhou Kouyaté (West Ham -> Senegal)
Some things at West Ham are transcending logic. With Dimitri Payet’s rebellion, Andy Carroll’s on-and-off injuries, defeats against Leicester and Manchester United, rumoured Chelsea’s interest in signing Michael Antonio – it seemed that the roof was caving in on Slaven Bilić’s head. Another nail in the Croat’s coffin was supposed to be Cheikou Kouyaté’s Senegal call-up. The towering midfielder has been pretty much irreplaceable this season – and few days after he boarded the plane to Africa, Hammers have crashed and burned during the 0-5 home disgrace against Manchester City. However, as it later turned out, Pedro Obiang and Mark Noble were good enough to take care of Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough. Are they good enough to get revenge on City while their teammate continues his AFCON adventure? We’ll see on Wednesday – so far, they’re coping OK.
Negative impact: 4/10
Didier Ndong (Sunderland -> Gabon)
The last game prior to Ndong’s trip to his homeland was a home clash with Liverpool. And even though Sunderland’s record-breaking signing has been criticised through all this season – he played very well in that match. Inspired by him, The Mackems fought bravely and scraped a 2-2 draw against the top-notch team – but it was the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel that turns out to be a train. Twenty four days later, David Moyes and his lads are on a 7-game winless streak and Ndong himself has just exited the AFCON after playing in three, insipid draws for his national team. Let’s be blunt here: the only actual reason why he was sorely missed was that Black Cats were forced to start Jack Rodwell in his slot – and whenever Jack Rodwell starts, Sunderland are not winning. Ever. The Gabonese DM will be back home at no time – but it will take much more than him to keep SAFC up.
Negative impact: 5/10
Ahmed Elmohamady (Hull -> Egypt)
An important, though underrated piece to Mike Phelan’s puzzle, Elmohamady has left the KCOM Stadium just when The Tigers have been given some hope by their relegation rivals. Then, his manager has been replaced by Marco Silva in a desperate bid to lift the slumping team up. Short of quality manpower, the Portuguese manager had no choice but to try a four-player defending (resulting in 2-0 cup win over Swansea and 0-2 loss at Old Trafford). In the other two January games, Hull were back to their most comfortable 3-4-3 style, handing the right-wingback role to Adama Diomandé against Bournemouth and to the new signing, Omar Elabdellaoui, against Chelsea. Despite three points snatched against Cherries, neither of these players really ‘clicked’ in their new role and Elmohamady should feel quite secure about his Hull squad status – even if it’s still only a harsh, relegation dogfight.
Negative impact: 6/10
Riyad Mahrez (Leicester -> Algeria)
Looking more and more like a one-season sensation, the Leicester winger probably didn’t mind leaving England for a while – especially since his club has been playing dreadful football regardless of his presence. The blame isn’t purely on Mahrez, though: actually, the Algerian had a good spell of form in November and if it wasn’t for uncharacteristically poor defending, his contributions might’ve helped Foxes more. Without him and his compatriot Islam Slimani as attacking outlets, Claudio Ranieri’s boys were forced to swallow two bitter pills in form of 0-3 defeats to Chelsea and Southampton. It’s a harsh return to Earth from a dreamland for the reigning Premier League champions – but the fact that their players are responsible for 4 out of 5 Algerian goals in the AFCON gives them some hope. Especially since The Desert Warriors have already been sent back home, after failing to win a single game…
Negative impact: 6/10
Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace -> Ivory Coast)
Crystal Palace are far from enjoying themselves this season. So far, they’ve got rid of one manager, slipped into the relegation zone less than a week ago and are currently boasting the worst run of form in the entire league. Defensively, they’re still very poor, with 41 goals conceded in 22 games. With Zaha in squad, things at least occasionally looked good in the attacking third – as the ex-Manchester United winger was able to use his pace and dribbling qualities to score four and assist six times. After his departure for Gabon, Sam Allardyce’s team was unable in three out of four January games, while registering only 3 shots on target in two crucial league clashes with West Ham and Everton. There are good news, though: Zaha’s Ivory Coast has crashed out of AFCON in the group stage and the winger will be returning to Selhurst Park immediately, in order to make up for his three-week absence.
Negative impact: 8/10
Sadio Mané (Liverpool -> Senegal)
It didn’t take a genius to foresee the consequences of Mané’s absence at Anfield – but few people predicted that they are going to be so severe. In December, The Reds have lost only one game; a won one, at Bournemouth. In January, without their Senegalese winger leading the line, they’ve only won one match so far. An EFL Cup replay. Played with the reserve team. Against Plymouth Argyle. What’s worse, with far less width and pace down the right flank, LFC’s strategy now boils down to curling crosses into the area. So far, it translated into just eight goals in seven matches since the New Years’ day. Adam Lallana in Mané’s slot does not quite work; neither does tweaking the team to a 4-3-1-2 setup with Daniel Sturridge upfront. Jürgen Klopp desperately needs Mané back and he needs him fast – otherwise, not only the ambitions to chase Chelsea, but the top 4 finish can be ruined.
Negative impact: 10/10