Every game Crystal Palace’s AFCON stars will miss including Brighton, Millwall and West Ham

Crystal Palace might be losing up to four first-team players next January as the African Cup of Nations kicks off in Cameroon.

The 24-team tournament, postponed from last year amid the coronavirus pandemic, is due to get underway on January 9 and run until February 6.

Palace could be one of the teams hit hardest by the tournament’s timing, with Wilfried Zaha (Ivory Coast), Cheikhou Kouyate (Senegal), Jeffrey Schlupp and Jordan Ayew (both Ghana) all likely to be representing their countries.

Zaha, Ayew and Kouyate are currently three of only nine players to have played in more than 1,000 minutes of Premier League football this season, while Schlupp’s versatility has seen him provide cover on the wing, in midfield and as a second striker under Vieira.

If all four leave it’ll be a big blow for the Eagles, with manager Patrick Vieira admitting he had been thinking whether to dip into the transfer market to compensate for the potential loss of the quartet.

“We are working and trying to find the best solution,” said the Frenchman in December. “What I mean by that is we have to wait and see how many players will leave and go to the African Cup of Nations that may have an impact on the decision that we are going to make.”

Palace have four fixtures in January that they must contend with, starting with the New Years’ Day visit of West Ham to Selhurst Park on January 1.

Despite AFCON not getting underway until January 9, the impact of training camps ahead of the tournament means the players’ participation in the game against the Hammers could be in doubt.

The Eagles then have a key FA Cup third round fixture away at south London rivals Millwall on January 8, before travelling to Brighton four days later on January 14 to reignite their rivalry with the Seagulls in the Premier League.

Finally, the visit of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool to south London is on January 23. Liverpool’s visit to Selhurst Park last season was a day to forget, though this time around the Reds will be affected by AFCON also.

They could be without Mohamed Salah (Egypt), Sadio Mane (Senegal) and Naby Keita (Guinea) – the three players that scored in the 3-0 reverse fixture back in September at Anfield.

Crystal Palace have four games coming up in January
Crystal Palace have four games coming up in January

For Vieira, the key questions will be who replaces the departing players heading to Cameroon. Wilfried Zaha is a guaranteed starter for the Eagles when he is fit, while Kouyate and Ayew’s recent form has made them important cogs in Vieira’s machine.

Odsonne Edouard has played on the left side of a front three at times this season and will likely return there in Zaha’s absence with Christian Benteke leading the line centrally.

On the right, Ayew’s understudy this season has been Michael Olise, who could endear himself to fans even more than he has done already with big performances against Millwall and Brighton if he is picked.

The return of Ebere Eze to fitness will help alleviate some pressure also, though Palace will likely need to play either Luka Milivojevic or Jairo Riedewald in place of Kouyate in the holding midfield role.

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