The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) is just around the corner and as usual, there is a big impact on the Premier League, with 13 teams losing at least one player to the tournament. We touched upon this briefly in our recent FPL article, but we thought it was worth looking at in more detail.
The table below lists the Premier League players that will be taking part in the competition and for which country;
As we can see, Ivory Coast have the most Premier League players in their squad with five. The next highest is Senegal, who name four Premier League players in their squad. Algeria and Egypt both have three with Ghana and Morocco naming a pair of players apiece. Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Mali and Tunisia all named a single representative to round up the Premier League call-ups.
Leicester, Stoke, and Sunderland are affected the most by the AFCON call-ups, with them all losing three players for the tournament. Of those teams, Sunderland are arguably the ones who will suffer most with David Moyes' side losing players who would be looking to make the starting XI. As a further blow, his team are currently suffering with several injuries meaning the tournament hasn’t come at the best of times.
Crystal Palace will be without two players but the influential Wilfried Zaha will be a huge loss after he chose to represent Ivory Coast despite playing two friendlies for England. Hull will also be missing two players in Ahmed Elmohamady and Dieumerci Mbokani, both of whom have been regulars in their starting XI this season; their loss will be huge for the Tigers who possess one of the smallest squads in the Premier League.
Some of the biggest losses are felt by those clubs who only lose one player and incidentally, all of these were recruited by their current clubs in the summer. Eric Bailly, despite not playing a great amount of football lately, will leave Man Utd light at centre-back, whilst Southampton lose record signing Sofiane Boufal. However, arguably the two biggest losses come on Merseyside; Sadio Mane has been a key component in Liverpool’s impressive first half of the season, contributing nine Premier League goals, whereas across Stanley Park, Idrissa Gueye will be extremely difficult to replace in Everton’s midfield with the Senegal man becoming a real fans’ favourite at Goodison Park since his move from Aston Villa. Gueye has arguably been Everton’s most consistent players this season and will be a massive loss whilst he is away.
Now we know which players are heading to the AFCON and who they’re representing, the next question is how many games will they miss? This should be of particular interest to FPL players;
There are a couple certainties based on the dates above; all players will be missing for at least two FPL gameweeks. FA Cup action has alleviated the Premier League impact somewhat, with the third round kicking off this weekend and the fourth round taking place on the weekend of the 28th January. Any players who are in teams that make the AFCON semi-finals will miss a minimum of four FPL gameweeks (21-24).
The date of the quarter-finals and gameweek 23 are likely to be important for FPL managers when setting their teams. If a player’s side is knocked out in the quarter-finals then they could potentially return for gameweek 23. However, it’s significant to note how the groups have been drawn, as there is a potential advantage for those teams in groups A and B who are knocked out at the quarter-final stage. This is because the four qualifiers from those groups face-off on the 28th January, whereas the qualifiers from groups C and D don’t play until a day later. With gameweek 23 taking place on the 31st January and 1st February, there is a chance that a player making it as far as the quarter-final may only miss two FPL gameweeks, but with the long trip back from Africa required in such a small timeframe, their availability for Premier League action remains to be seen.
Gabon are the sole team in group A with Premier League representation with Algeria, Senegal and Tunisia in group B. An added bonus for West Ham, Stoke and Everton fans is that they don’t play their match in gameweek 23 until the 1st February, giving their players four days to return should they be knocked out at the quarter-final stage.
Another aspect worth considering in the FPL world is the potential suspensions heading the way of those players who have declined their international call-ups. Benik Afobe has pulled out of the DR Congo squad to concentrate on forcing his way into Bournemouth’s side whilst Liverpool’s Joel Matip and Allan Nyom of West Brom have both refused to meet up with the Cameroon squad.
Although they are currently available for their respective clubs, that could soon change if FIFA intervene; football’s governing body could decide to impose sanctions on those players refusing to represent their country.
With this in mind, those players may be worth avoiding in your FPL line-ups. It will also pay to keep a close eye on the AFCON to see how your players are progressing in the tournament. If you currently own one of the players who have been called-up and are benching them until they return, you may also find yourself cheering on an early exit for some of the teams, just like Everton and Liverpool fans will no doubt be doing with Senegal!