Both the second and third-placed Premier League sides will be at full strength as their rivals at the top each lose at least one first-team player to winter tournament
By Jamie Dunn
As some of the biggest names in football gather for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea this month, several Premier League clubs are left wondering how they will cover for the absence of their star players.
Others, though, will be rubbing their hands at the prospect of seeing their rivals stripped of their prized assets immediately after the festive period, and will be looking to capitalise on any potential slips.
Goal.com UK asked YOU which club you thought would be hit hardest during the tournament, and examines who the biggest winners are...
While Sir Alex Ferguson felt it necessary to haul Paul Scholes out of retirement midway through the season, Manchester United will not lose a single player to the tournament. The Old Trafford side have only one African in their ranks in the shape of striker Mame Biram Diouf, who has not been selected by Senegal.
In fact, Sir Alex has rarely been hit by the departure of an African player in January, with Quinton Fortune, Eric Djemba Djemba and Manucho part of a select band of players to have graced Old Trafford from the continent.
With United just three points behind their rivals Manchester City, who will suffer the loss of bodies, the title holders may see the start of 2012 as their best opportunity to wrest the initiative from their 'noisy neighbours.'
Two of Tottenham's key players are African, but fortunately for Harry Redknapp, neither will be taking part in the competition.
Emmanuel Adebayor, on loan from Manchester City, was part of the Togo team to withdraw from the 2010 tournament after a harrowing bus attack. The striker retired from international duty after and has been in talks to return to the fold, but regardless, Togo will not be involved in 2012.
Meanwhile, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, the seldom rested left-back, and backup central defender Sebastien Bassong are not involved after Cameroon failed to qualify.
Spurs have a genuine opportunity to turn up the heat on the Manchester clubs heading towards the final months of the season, with a trip to Manchester City just weeks away.
Similarly to Manchester United and Spurs, Liverpool are not set to lose a single player to international duty over the coming month, which is good news for the club given the eight-match ban handed to star man Luis Suarez.
Better news for Kenny Dalglish still is the return to full fitness of captain Steven Gerrard, so while other clubs are losing some of their best talent, the Scot may reap the benefits of the England international in full flow.
With Newcastle a point behind the Anfield club in seventh place, and Chelsea and Arsenal within touching distance in fourth and fifth respectively, could this be the month Liverpool stake a hard claim for a return to the top four?
Having netted in the Premier League 15 times this season - second only to Arsenal's Robin van Persie - Demba Ba is a huge loss for Newcastle United, accounting for over half of their 29 goals so far.
And while the Senegalese forward's absence is perhaps more obviously damaging, the departure of Cheikh Tiote is also a massively damaging one for Alan Pardew's side, who look an altogether more solid and ruthless proposition with the Ivorian occupying the centre of midfield alongside Yohan Cabaye.
Almost half the readers who voted in our poll - 48.91 per cent to be precise - believe the Magpies will suffer the most during the competition and will have to dig deep to stay in touch with the European qualification places.
Roberto Mancini has been bemoaning the need for another central midfielder signing during the transfer window, and while to most of us the Italian's cup runneth over with talent, the loss of Yaya Toure to the Ivory Coast leaves Manchester City without one of their most consistent performers.
The departure of his brother and compatriot Kolo Toure initially seemed decidedly easier to combat, but Vincent Kompany's red card against Manchester United and subsequent four-game suspension leaves Mancini somewhat light at the back for a short period.
Hot on the tail of Newcastle, 36.5% of voters in our poll expect City to struggle while the tournament takes place, with their mettle and title credentials set to be rigorously tested.
Didier Drogba may have only scored six goals during the 2011-12 campaign, but his departure, coupled with that of fellow Ivorian Salomon Kalou and a hip injury to Daniel Sturridge, means Andre Villas-Boas must help Fernando Torres hit form to provide the goals to keep Chelsea in the top four.
Despite Torres scoring just four goals in all competitions so far this season - only one more than fringe player Kalou - a mere 6.5% of the votes in our poll leaned towards Chelsea having the hardest time filling in the gaps.
Just 5.91% of voters expect Arsenal to struggle without Ivorian forward Gervinho, despite the frustratingly low-key performances of the once brilliant Andrey Arshavin and the fact Arsene Wenger is yet to use Park Chu-Young in the Premier League.
Marouane Chamakh is also bound for duty with Morocco, but the results are perhaps reflective of the return of a certain Thierry Henry, who is on loan from the New York Red Bulls for a six-week spell.
Wenger must, like Redknapp, be thankful Cameroon did not qualify for the competition, as Alex Song stays put.
Despite his indifferent form thus far this season, 1.53% of voters believed QPR will find life difficult without Morocco playmaker Adel Taarabt, and Senegal's Armand Traore, who has become a regular feature in the side since his transfer from Arsenal.
Wigan will be without Mohamed Diame as they battle relegation, and 0.54% think Roberto Martinez's side may not get by without him, while an almost-not-worth-mentioning 0.11% think Stoke City could really do with keeping Salif Diao.
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