We assess 10 of the best rated European club players heading to represent their countries in the African Cup of Nations in January 2017.
Ryad Boudabouz (Montpellier)
26-year-old Boudebouz can play in wide positions, but has flourished in the centre this season for Montpellier, scoring 7 times compared to last season’s two goals. He’s a somewhat unknown star in the Algerian side, which is overflowing with attacking midfield flair.
Jean Michel Seri (Nice)
The 25-year-old playmaker from the Ivory Coast has been pivotal in Nice’s sensational start to the Ligue 1 season. For the surprise early leaders he has contributed more assists than anyone in the French top-flight, and his passing rate is the fifth highest in the league at 73.5. While he has only started once for Michel Dussuyer’s side, he should star for the pre-tournament favourites this time.
Bertrand Traore (Ajax)
The 21-year-old’s importance to the Burkina Faso national team is clear, as he’s already collected 30 international caps. His first call-up was at the age of 15. He’s on loan from Chelsea and proving a great success on the right side of Ajax’s front three, with 4 league goals so far, and his pace and dribbling ability have stood out in this season’s Eredivisie.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund)
Top scorer in the Bundesliga with 15 goals, the rapid forward and captain of Gabon has been in spectacular form for Dortmund, and their coach Thomas Tuschel will be relieved that the German league doesn’t resume until 20 January, a week into the Cup of Nations. The 2015 African Footballer of the Year is the tournament’s poster boy as the host nation attempts to improve on its best-ever quarter final appearance 5 years ago.
Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord)
Now 31 and a experienced key player in midfield for both his club and Morocco, El Ahmedi has made an immediate impact on his return to the Dutch top flight. Although he struggled in the Premier League in his two seasons at Aston Villa, he’s been excellent at keeping the ball and passing for Feyenoord, and scored four goals to help his club top the table.
Moussa Margea (Vitoria de Guimaraes)
The Mali forward will be hoping his outstanding start to the season will earn him a place in the starting line-up and build on his 9 international caps. After 10 games in the Portuguese Liga he was top scorer with 10 goals That’s despite missing three matches through suspension, and operating on the right wing for Vitoria, where he is on a season-long loan from Porto.
Mo Salah (Roma)
The huge counter-attacking threat of this 24-year-old will be missed by Roma as much as it is relished by the Egyptian international side. He has already scored 8 times in Serie A, and with 4 assists for Luciano Spaletti’s team, Salah will be hoping to bring his fine form to Gabon and add to his 27 international goals. If Egypt progress in the tournament, he should reach his landmark 50th cap.
Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace)
The 24-year-old is in the best form of his Premier League career. His finishing is beginning to match his threat and talents, and his 3 goals and six assists have been hugely important for Alan Pardew’s battling side. So he will be badly missed as he heads to Gabon to represent the Ivory Coast, a decision taken after the frustration of being overlooked by England. He could miss key league matches against Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal during the African Cup of Nations.
Sadio Mane (Senegal)
The Liverpool winger will be a star of the Senegal squad that’s among the favourites for its first ever title in the African Nations Cup. His outstanding start for Jurgen Klopp’s Reds has put him in the top 5 Premier League ratings with 7 goals and 4 assists. At the age of 24 he is full of confidence and many are expecting him to light up the tournament and be a contender for its best player.
Hakim Ziyech (Ajax)
Following a summer transfer from Twente, the 23-year-old playmaker has quickly become a key player for the title-chasing Amsterdam squad. Ziyech has 3 goals, five assists and the best average per game in the league for both shots (4.2) and key passes (3.8). He switched his allegiance to Morocco in 2015 from the Netherlands, and has already scored 5 times in just 9 international appearances. Ajax coach Peter Bosz will not be looking forward to the Cup of Nations, with Ziyech missing from his attack line as well as Bertrand Traore.