From January 9th to February 6th, many Premier League players will be absent in order to participate in the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). Some clubs will be hit harder by their absentees than others. Watford are in line to be one of the most impacted clubs considering the number of important players they have destined to take part in the international tournament.
When AFCON comes around, the Hornets have nine first-team players who could potentially take part. Two of these players are Jeremy Ngakia and Imran Louza. As of now, both would be considered as players representing their European roots (England and France respectively). However, Ngakia could opt to declare to play for DR Congo and Louza is still eligible to make a switch to playing for Morocco. The new signing represented both France and Morocco at the U20 level.
Even though his future appears to be elsewhere, Isaac Success has played at the senior level for Nigeria previously. Tom Dele-Bashiru has represented Nigeria at youth level, though he is yet to make a senior appearance for the Super Eagles.
There are five players Watford will almost certainly be without during the tournament. Barring any tremendous shocks, Ismaila Sarr will be starting for Senegal. William Troost-Ekong frequently serves as the Super Eagles captain, so inclusion in the squad is inevitable. Emmanuel Dennis has made three senior-level appearances for Nigeria, so if in decent form, a call-up can be expected. Peter Etebo is also likely to be in the tournament with the Super Eagles, having already made 33 senior appearances for them including impressive displays at the 2018 World Cup. Adam Masina recently made the international switch from Italy to Morocco. Having started the two AFCON qualification matches he was eligible for, he can be expected to once more earn the international call-up.
From the span of January 9th to February 6th, the players would only miss clashes against Newcastle United, Norwich City, and an FA Cup fixture. However, the nations will want to have their players training together a couple of weeks prior to the start. That two-week span would see the players miss matches against Wolverhampton Wanderers, West Ham United, and Tottenham Hotspur. If any of them reach the final, a February 8th clash against West Ham will come too soon. The February 12th fixture against Brighton & Hove Albion might also be too early for some players.
How early international teams want their players for training and when teams get eliminated will change the matches missed. Fitness problems and injury may also, unfortunately, occur as a result of the tournament.
So, Watford may be without nine first-team players for up to eight matches in a pivotal run. The club and players will likely try to push to not have to show up early to pre-tournament training. Nonetheless, that leaves a few pivotal fixtures still to be missed. Considering most of these players are in the Hornets’ starting conversation, their absences will go far from unnoticed.