Saints to lose Boufal after Everton game

Saints to lose Boufal after Everton game

With the African Cup of Nations on the horizon, Southampton will be planning how to make do without Sofiane Boufal as he sets off for Gabon next week.

Kit Shepard

Southampton will be without attacker Sofiane Boufal for at least the majority of January, as he will put country before club and travel to Gaboto represent his native Morocco in the African Cup of Nations.

Boufal will join up with his national team after Southampton's clash with Everton on 2nd January, meaning Claude Puel will undoubtedly be planning how to minimise the impact of Boufal's absence.

A big miss

After missing the opening games of the season through injury, summer signing Boufal has been slowly finding his feet in English football over the past couple of months. Following his stunning goal on his full debut against Sunderland in the EFL Cup, Boufal took time to come to terms with the physicality of the Premier League, but has been looking more at home by the match.

As a result, Boufal's absence come the turn of the year will be a serious problem for Southampton, with his pace on the ball, direct style of play and lighting feet all vital to their attack. The 23-year-old has been a regular starter in the past few weeks, meaning whoever replaces him, albeit temporarily, with have big boots to fill.

Boufal's first half-season in the Premier League has been positive. Photo: Getty.

Boufal is set to miss a number of crucial games for the Saints, including both legs of their EFL Cup semi-final with Liverpool. Fans around St Mary's will be hoping for an early exit for Morocco, but even if the North Africans were knocked out of the competition at the group stage, Southampton's biggest signing of the summer transfer window would still be absent for five games, with this phase of the tournament concluding the day before the second leg on Merseyside. 

Should Morocco go all the way to the final on 5th February, Boufal would miss at least seven games.

In every emergency, an opportunity

Although Southampton will be without Boufal for arguably their two biggest games this season so far, manager Puel has taken a positive approach to the situation, seeing it as an opportunity for others to show their worth to the side.

The Frenchman believes Dusan Tadic in particular could thrive in Boufal's absence, believing the Serbian can "can come back with a good level, fit and can bring for the team all his qualities". 

Dusan Tadic will look to capitalise on an extended run in the side during Boufal's absence. Photo: Getty.

Tadic has been unable to regain his place in the Southampton side following breaking his nose on international duty in November, so Boufal being unavailable could give him his chance to remind everyone on the South Coast what he can do. 

Not all bad news

While the loss of Boufal is far from ideal for Southampton, they will be boosted by the knowledge that they are far from the only Premier League team depleted by the tournament in Gabon.

The Saints will host a Leicester side on 22nd January without the Algerian duo Islam Slimani and Riyad Mahrez, two key players for the Foxes. Claudio Ranieri will also have to find a way to beat Southampton without three other players as well; Daniel Amartey, Jeffrey Schlupp (both Ghana) and Yohan Benalouane​ (Tunisia).

Perhaps most crucially though, Liverpool will also be missing a key player, namely Sadio Mane. The Senegalese attacker, who set sail from the South Coast to join Jurgen Klopp's revolution in the summer will, like Boufal, not feature in the cup ties. 

Like Boufal, Sadio Mane will miss Liverpool's EFL Cup semi-fnial with Southampton. Photo: Getty.

With Mane being one of the players of the season so far with 8 goals and 4 assists, Southampton's semi-final opponents will also be at a serious disadvantage when the sides do battle for a place at Wembley in the new year.