Published: 10:59, January 3, 2024 | Updated: 11:00, January 3, 2024
Advantage Man City as title rivals prepare to lose key players
By Reuters

Everton's English defender #06 James Tarkowski (left) fights for the ball with Manchester City's Swiss defender #25 Manuel Akanji during the English Premier League football match between Everton and Manchester City at Goodison Park in Liverpool, north west England on Dec 27, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)

LONDON - Manchester City could have an advantage in the Premier League title race through January as their rivals face up to losing key players to the African Cup of Nations and Asia Cup.

As the Premier League emerges from a frantic set of festive fixtures with only six points separating the top five, managers will be busy drawing up contingency plans.

Some will likely deem it necessary to dip in to the transfer market to make up for the loss of some top performers.

But while Liverpool will lose Egyptian Mohamed Salah and Tottenham Hotspur will have to make do without South Korea's Son Heung-min, champions Manchester City will be unaffected.

City manager Pep Guardiola does not have a single player jetting off to either the Ivory Coast or Qatar for the continental tournaments that start on Jan. 13 and Jan. 12 respectively and run for almost a month.

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (left) scores his side's fourth goal from penalty spot during the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Newcastle, at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, on Jan 1, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

Leaders Liverpool, who head Aston Villa by three points after their win over Newcastle United on Monday, will wave goodbye to Salah who with 14 goals is the joint-top scorer in the Premier League this season, equal with Erling Haaland.

They will also be missing combative midfielder Wataru Endo who will join up with Japan.

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"It's a bit of a shame how he found his feet and now he goes to the Asian Cup," manager Juergen Klopp said.

Surprise title challengers Villa will only lose squad player Bertrand Traore to Burkina Faso but fourth-placed Arsenal will be harder hit with Mohamed Elneny (Egypt), Thomas Partey (Ghana) and Takehiro Tomiyasu (Japan) all heading off for an unspecified amount of time, depending on the progress of their nations.

Tottenham Hotspur's South Korean striker #07 Son Heung-Min (center) runs with the ball during the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, on Dec 10, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)

Tottenham have been bedevilled by injuries in the last couple of months and now manager Ange Postecoglou will have to adapt to captain Son, who has scored 12 league goals, representing South Korea. Tottenham also lose midfielder Yves Bissouma to Mali while Pape Sarr, who was injured against Bournemouth on Sunday, is part of Senegal's squad.

Resurgent West Ham, who are in sixth place, will be hampered by the loss key Ghanian midfielder Mohammed Kudus.

Manchester United's under-pressure manager Erik Ten Hag could do without losing Andre Onana (Cameroon), Sofyan Amrabat (Morocco) and Amad Diallo (Ivory Coast) as he tries to turn around what has been a dreadful season so far.

Wolverhampton Wanderers' Rayan Ait-Nouri (left) and Brentford's Mads Roerslev battle for the ball during the English Premier League soccer match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Brentford FC at the Gtech Community Stadium, London, on Dec 27, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)

At the other end of the table, Nottingham Forest are the worst hit as they prepare to make do without six players for the next few weeks including Serge Aurier, Willy Boly and Ibrahim Sangare.

Struggling Brentford will be without midfielders Saman Ghoddos (Iran) and Frank Onyeka (Nigeria) along with striker Yoane Wissa (DR Congo).

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The Premier League takes a breather this weekend with the FA Cup third round taking precedence while all clubs will have one of the two following weekends off in a mini winter break.

By that stage the group stages of the AFCON and Asia Cup will be virtually over, meaning some players may be heading back.