Leicester City’s squad will be tested as they lose key players to AFCON. The tournament runs from the 9th of January until the 6th of February, spanning 8 vital Premier League fixtures at a pivotal time of the season.
Nigerian forward Kelechi Iheanacho and combative midfielder Wilfred Ndidi are set to play a pivotal for their country in this year’s tournament. Leicester are also going to be without Nampalys Mendy and Daniel Amartey, who will be on duty with Senegal and Ghana respectively.
Manager Brendan Rodgers has found himself in the unenviable position of having each one of his involved players qualifying with their respective countries.
He is not alone, however- with Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp also set be without key players Mohammed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita for crucial games in the title race with Manchester City. The two sides play each other in their first game after AFCON is over, with both managers likely eager to have their stars return to first-team action as soon as possible.
Ndidi in particular has been attracting attention from suitors such as Real Madrid as he continues his impressive career trajectory with the Foxes. The concern of Leicester fans is that missing the tough-tackling Nigerian will rob the midfield of its engine, and hamper the team from a defensive perspective.
Ndidi is one of the first names on the team sheet, and there isn’t an obvious like-for-like replacement for him in the Leicester City dressing room.
Iheanacho is perhaps less vital- there are other options in his position in talisman Jamie Vardy and the hot prospect Patson Daka. Zambian Daka has scored 5 goals despite starting just 5 games this season and will be available to add to his tally over January.
Daka’s increasingly impressive form has meant Ihenacho has been mostly used in a rotation role for the past month. However, the strikers’ absence still leaves Leicester in the precarious position of being a couple of injuries away from a squad with no recognised senior strikers.
Leicester have been linked with reinforces in this area of the pitch, with West Ham starlet Jarrod Bowen widely mooted as a target for Brendan Rodgers in the upcoming window. However, it remains to be seen whether the fan favourite would be interested in a move, with the Hammers flying in the league and making an impressive effort of staying well amongst the champions league race
After an impressive past couple of seasons, Leicester will have started this campaign with ambitions of European qualification. They are still only 2 points off Manchester United in 6th, but have a strong field in front of them and will have to rely on dropped points from strong team’s like Tottenham, Arsenal and Everton.
The season may hinge on the clubs’ ability to recruit when the transfer window opens in January, with their opponents likely to be backed in the market to secure continental football and the financial benefits it will bring next season.
Leicester are currently 12th in the Premier League table after a fairly underwhelming start to the season. They’re currently 11/4 in terms of online football betting to kick on and finish in the top 6- but without Nigeria’s finest at their disposal, January may allow rivals West Ham and Arsenal to assert their European credentials and cement their league position.
It is unlikely that losing key players will improve the team, with a transitional season of mid-table mediocrity considered more likely by the bookmakers at a more sensible 4/11.