Senegal's AFCON qualification will hurt West Ham, but will help Andy Carroll

Diafra Sakho will likely miss four West Ham games in the new year, with the African Cup of Nations planned for January.

Sakho and midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate were both involved in the weekend’s victory over Egypt which secured Les Lions qualification for the Finals tournament next year.

The pair have been vital to the Hammers incredible start to the season, with Kouyate running the midfield following his transfer from Anderlecht, and Sakho leading the club’s scoring charts with six goals in just eight games - a return which was rewarded with the Premier League Player of the Month award for October.

However, their importance to the Hammers has been noticed on the international scene, and, having featured in Senegal’s qualification for the 2015 AFCON Finals, the duo will most certainly be included in the Alain Giresse’s squad for the Finals in January - a decision which could see them out of action for a month.

If they are called up, the pair will miss fixtures with Swansea City, Hull City, Liverpool and Manchester United, with the maximum four games occurring should Senegal reach the final of the tournament. Their losses will be felt heavily at the Boleyn Ground, with the duo two of the best performing Irons this campaign - in a squad full of high-performing players - but it reads as good news for one man.

Andy Carroll completed 90 minutes of a Hammers friendly last week, leading the line in a 3-3 draw with Championship side Fulham. His return to full fitness has been a long time coming, but he appears to be making progress, and it will not be long until he is fully ready for competitive action. With the form of Sakho and strike-partner Enner Valencia, it is likely that Carroll will be resigned to the substitutes bench on his return to matchday squads - as Carlton Cole has had to endure in recent weeks - but he will likely be back and ready for 90 minutes in time for Sakho’s absence.

If he can take his chance in the starting XI when Sakho is not available, he could prove that he still has a part to play in Sam Allardyce’s squad, and further alleviate the rumours of him wanting to leave East London. Whilst he possesses a different skill set to Sakho, and one that is not immediately viable to Allardyce’s current system, a willingness to adapt could see him excel, and, if in a strong run of form when Sakho was to return from international duty, there is no denying that the coach would be hard-pressed to find a reason to drop the former Newcastle and Liverpool man.

The AFCON is happening at the worst time for West Ham, but the perfect time for Andy Carroll, and the Englishman should be looking to stake his claim for a starting role in Sakho’s absence. Whilst the Senegalese forward has become a fan favourite in his short time at the Boleyn Ground, and Carroll is still often derided for his style of play, if he can fill the void left by Sakho in January, the 25-year-old could well displace Sakho as Sam Allardyce’s leading man for the remainder of the season.

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