David Moyes is sweating on those players called up for Africa Cup of Nations duty being able to feature against Liverpool on Monday.
Sunderland host Jurgen Klopp’s side at the Stadium of Light on the same day the players are due to meet up with their countries.
Lamine Kone (Ivory Coast), Didier Ndong (Gabon) and Wahbi Khazri (Tunisia) are definitely involved in the tournament, with Moyes facing an anxious wait to hear if Papy Djilobodji will be called up by Senegal.
Moyes says he hopes to be able to use some of the trio against Liverpool, with negotiations currently taking place to allow the players to join up slightly later.
“We are just in the middle of discussing that just now,” said Moyes, when asked when the players will join up with their countries.
“The fact is we think we will have a couple of them for the Liverpool game, we think.
“Not absolutely totally confirmed.
“If you look at FIFA’s rules, they say they have to leave on January 2.
“But some of the countries say that they are happy to play for their clubs, though some of them haven’t.”
Djilobodji, signed from Chelsea in the summer, hasn’t played for Senegal since early 2015, but his improved form for Sunderland this season could result in a recall to the national team.
It would leave Sunderland without their first choice centre-back pairing for January should he be recalled, with Moyes relying on veteran John O’Shea and on-loan Jason Denayer.
On Djilobodji, Moyes added: “I genuinely don’t expect any news on that front.
“I have heard nothing to suggest that he will be called up. If there were two or three injuries, would that change things?
“I don’t know, but I’m not getting any feedback that there is a chance of him going.
“It is difficult already [losing Kone], but that would make it even more difficult.”
The Sunderland contingent could miss anything up to six Cats fixtures, should their nations get to the final on February 5.
There are two FA Cup weekends, Burnley at home on January 7 with a potential fourth-round date scheduled for the 28th.
Sunderland have Premier League games against Stoke (h), West Brom (a), Spurs (h) and Crystal Palace (a) during the championship.
The tournament has always been a concern for the Sunderland boss given the injury situation facing the Black Cats.
Moyes added: “We have got three players who have been called up – Wahbi, Lamine and Didier will be away with their countries – and we have been aware for a while that would be the case.
“It will put us at risk as far as numbers in our squad go, but some of these players could be back in three weeks, we might miss them for a couple of games, a cup game possibly.
“We just don’t know how long they will be in the tournament.”