Rafa Benitez could be facing the loss of three more players for the Blackburn v Newcastle game.

Already without the suspended Jonjo Shelvey, it had been anticipated that Christian Atsu, Chancel Mbemba and Mohamed Diame would all be available for the Forest and Blackburn games before heading off on international duty.

However, the rules state that clubs must make their players available for pre-tournament training 14 days before the finals, so with the competition in Gabon starting on 14 January the 2 January game with Blackburn falls inside that period.

For example, Ghana start their training camp on the same day that Newcastle travel to Blackburn and at present there is no word from Newcastle on the availability of the players heading off to the African Cup of Nations.

Steve Bruce has asked for special permission for Christian Atsu’s international teammate Jordan Ayew to be able to miss the start of the training camp but as yet has not had a decision communicated to him, Villa play Cardiff on 2 January and Bruce is desperate to have the striker available for the Championship game.

It is unknown whether Newcastle have also made a similar request for Christian Atsu, as well as Diame and Mbemba.

Meanwhile, Christian Atsu has been talking about Ghana’s first match (17 January) against perceived underdogs Uganda (they also face Egypt and Mali in the group stage).

Christian Atsu speaking to Starr Sports:

“Uganda Cranes are not an underdog any more. They have played against all those teams in the group but we are not scared of them but they have a very good defensive set up which could worry us.

“They have a very good team both offensively and defensively”.

“The Cranes qualified on merit therefore the players are working hard to get to the AFCON and are prepared to compete rather than participating.”