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Africa Cup of Nations

What the January tournament means to you and your EPL fantasy teams

Africa Cup of Nations Trophy Photo by Fared Kotb/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Hey babe! It’s time for me to go home.

While my relationship with the Premier League is like that of a girlfriend whom I love, home will always remain home and when it’s time to go home, every other thing must be set aside.

The timing of the African Cup of Nations has always been a major worry for Premier League fans and managers (both real and in fantasy) as clubs deal with the absence of key players. For many African FPL managers like me, Afcon evokes mixed feelings because as much as I would love Mo Salah to keep delivering FPL points for me week in, week out, I also can’t wait to see my continent’s best players return to home soil to battle it out for the title of African Champions.

Premier League clubs have been left red-faced and frustrated by the departures of some stars. While most clubs and managers have taken it in good faith and wished their players the best, clubs like Watford have capitalized on paperwork delays and other loopholes to hold on to as many as they can.

With Afcon scheduled to commence on the 9th of January, all invited players had a deadline of the 3rd to leave their clubs and report to national team camps. This means FPL managers won’t be able to call on these players in the 2nd half of DGW-21 and must wait until a player’s nation is knocked out (or wins the final on February 6th, between GW-23 and GW-24).

The FA’s decision not to impose extra quarantine measures on returning participants means that fully-vaccinated players can immediately resume club duties once their countries exit, provided they test negative upon re-entry.

The African Cup of Nations is scheduled thus:

  • Group Stage: Jan 9-20 = EPL GW-21 & DGW-22
  • R16: Jan 23-26 = EPL GW-23
  • Quarterfinal Jan 29 & 30
  • Semifinals Feb 2 & 3
  • Finals Feb 6

EPL GW-24 then plays Feb 8-10 after a bit of a gap in the schedule; stay tuned to see if more make-up matches are inserted.

Players from countries such as Morocco, Algeria, Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana, Cameroon, Senegal, Mali and Ivory Coast are expected to at least make it out of the group stages, which means missing EPL matches through GW-23. Players who make it to the semis will also play on Feb 6 (either in the 3rd-place or championship matches) and could miss GW-24 depending on travel and fatigue.

The impact of the situation on EPL teams differs from club to club according to the number and importance of African players. While losing only three players, Liverpool nonetheless looks like the most affected top-4 team as stars Mane and Salah are expected to miss at least two league game-weeks. Leicester and Arsenal have the highest number of Afcon participants, each expected to lose four players.

These few weeks might play a huge role in where managers finish the season because captain selections will diverge while captain obvious Salah is out of town.

Let’s go team by team then...


Arsenal

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Country - Gabon

Potential replacement - None

Arsenal Captain Aubameyang will lead Gabon’s Panthers. Aubameyang has endured a terrible club season that has seen him dropped for lateness once and suspended indefinitely for another breach of discipline. On the pitch, the striker hasn’t fared much better, producing only four goals in fourteen league games this season. The striker last featured for the Gunners on December 6, in a 2-1 loss to Everton. Aubameyang’s disciplinary issues seem to have followed him to Cameroon as he has reportedly returned a positive Covid result after being seen partying with teammate Mario Lemina in Dubai. He could now miss Gabon’s first two matches. With Gabon grouped alongside Ghana and Morocco in group C, a group stage exit looks likely for the Panthers as only the top two in each group are guaranteed participation in the next round. Ability to limit the number of goals conceded against Morocco and Ghana, and a comfortable victory against Comoros might however be enough to see them go through as one of the best third-place teams.

Prediction – Group stage exit

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Mohammed Elneny (4.4m)

Country - Egypt

Potential replacement – None

Elneny has fallen further down the pecking order in the Gunners’ midfield this season. The Egyptian is now behind Granit Xhaka, Thomas Partey, Sambi Lokonga and Ainsley Maitland Niles in the competition for the two spots at the base of the Gunners midfield. Elneny’s sojourn to the African Cup of Nations should see him enjoy more game time as he has only started one Premier League game this season.

Prediction – At least quarterfinal

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Thomas Partey (5.0m)

Country - Ghana

Potential replacement – Sambi Lokonga (4.8m)

Partey probably played his best game for Arsenal in his last appearance for the club before departing for the African Cup of Nations. The Ghanian midfielder was phenomenal in the match against Pep Guardiola’s Man City. Partey’s ability to remain calm under pressure and beat his marker in tight spaces was evident time and time again as he beat City’s press with relative ease. Partey will be missed by the Gunners as his expected replacement (Lokonga) is still a level below him. Lokonga has however showed he isn’t out of place among the big boys as he deputized in place of Granit Xhaka this season. FPL managers looking to invest in Aresenal midfielders might however find better value in Smith Rowe, Martinelli, Saka and Odegaard as Lokonga isn’t known for scoring goals or providing assists.

Prediction – At least quarterfinal

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Nicolas Pepe (6.9m)

Country - Ivory Coast

Potential replacement – None

Pepe has continuously flirted with both the sublime and ridiculous since his arrival at Arsenal in summer 2019. The Ivorian winger has continued in the same vein the season, time and again failing to hit the level expected of him. Performances like the League Cup victory over Sunderland however leaves one wondering how good Pepe can be when in top form. The Ivorian has fallen behind Martinelli, Saka, Smith-Rowe, and Odegaard in the competition for the two places on the Gunners’ flanks, which mean he won’t be missed as much as Partey.

Prediction – At least quarterfinal


Aston Villa

Bertrand Traore (5.7m)

Country - Burkina Faso

Potential replacement – None

Traore has endured a horrible season hampered by injuries and inconsistency. The winger has been a shadow of the player who ran defenses ragged in French Ligue 1. Traore has featured only six times for the Villans this season, producing just one assist. His Burkina Faso stands a good chance of advancing past the group stage in a fairly balanced three-way battle with Ethiopia and Cape Verde for the second position in the group behind Cameroon.

Prediction – Round of 16 exit

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Mahmoud Trezeguet (5.4m)

Country - Egypt

Potential replacement – None

Trezeguet’s absence is unlikely to be felt as he is yet to feature this season.

Prediction – At least quarterfinal


Brentford

Frank Onyeka (4.9m)

Country – Nigeria

Potential replacement –

Combative holding midfielder Onyeka’s services will be missed by Brentford as he has been one of their most reliable midfielders in their fight to maintain Premier League status. The Nigerian has failed to feature in only two matches this season. While primarily tasked with winning the ball back and protecting the defense, Onyeka has chipped in with two assists at the other end of the pitch. Onyeka’s Nigeria is expected to battle it out with Egypt for first position in a group that also includes Sudan and Guinea-Bissau.

Prediction – At least quarterfinal


Brighton

Yves Bissouma (4.4m)

Country - Mali

Potential replacement – Jakub Moder

Bissouma has endured a topsy-turvy campaign that has seen him fail to hit the heights of last season. The Malian has had to deal with injuries and international suspension due to disciplinary issues. Despite that, he has featured in 16 of Brighton’s 21 league games this season. Owned by 6.5% of managers, the midfielder has provided only one assist. Moder is expected to fill in for Bissouma, but investing in Bissouma’s replacement doesn’t look tempting as he also isn’t known for scoring goals or creating chances.

Prediction – At least R-16


Burnley

Maxwel Cornet (5.9m)

Country - Ivory Coast

Potential replacement – Aaron Lennon (5.2m)

Cornet has been exceptional for Burnley, the Ivorian adding something different to Burnley’s set-piece oriented attack this season. His ability to keep the ball under pressure and skip past defenders has helped the Clarets alternate between playing direct football and attacking with the ball at their feet. Cornet has contributed a remarkable six goals in just ten Premier League games. Losing Cornet might see Aaron Lennon enjoy more playing time; the veteran has similar stature and slightly similar style, and he scored in the 3-1 loss to Leeds last week. Watch team news to learn if Lennon will deputize: he started on the left wing in the FA Cup defeat at the hands of Huddersfield today.

Prediction – At least quarterfinal


Chelsea

Edouard Mendy (6.2m)

Country – Senegal

Potential replacement – Kepa Arrizabalaga (4.7m), Marcus Bettinelli (4.0m)

Chelsea will be without Mendy who has repeatedly shown that he is one of the best goal-minders on the planet. The shot-stopper has failed to feature only once for the Blues this season. Mendy’s recent dip in form has coincided with the Blues recent woeful run that has seen them drop from first to third. Chelsea’s form has been made more evident by that fact that the defense has managed only one clean sheet in its last eight league games. Further, Thomas Tuchel opted to start Marcus Bettinelli in the FA Cup match today instead of handing minutes to Kepa, suggesting that Kepa may not even be Tuchel’s second-choice keeper at the moment. Either way there are better GK options available elsewhere.

Prediction – At least quarterfinal


Crystal Palace

Wilfried Zaha (6.8m)

Country - Ivory Coast

Potential replacement – Christian Benteke (6.2m) / Jean-Philippe Mateta (5.2m)

Patrick Viera’s Crystal Palace have recently demonstrated that there might just be life in the absence of mercurial Zaha, performing well in back-to-back matches since his dismissal in the match against Tottenham. Zaha is once again floating between too good and disappointing this season, just as he has all through his career. The Ivorian has also had issues with discipline due to his inability to check his emotions. Despite all that, he remains an important contributor at Palace, so he will be missed while away. Zaha’s absence will however create room for either Mateta or Benteke — each has deputized since the sending off. Mateta scored against Norwich in his first start for the Eagles in GW-20, and notched the winner in Palace’s FA Cup victory over Millwall today, so he may currently have the upper hand over Benteke.

Prediction – At least quarterfinal

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Jordan Ayew (5.8m)

Country – Ghana

Potential replacement – Eberechi Eze (5.9m) / Micheal Olise (5.4m)

Patrick Viera will have to do without key attacker Ayew also. The striker is expected to lead Ghana’s attack. Ayew’s hard work and tenacity will be missed by the Eagles as he isn’t one to shy away from a tackle or fail to help the defense. His impressive record of starting 16 of the Eagles 21 league games this season despite scoring only one goal shows that he isn’t just about shooting. The Ghanian striker’s contribution to the team’s general play will be hard to replace, but it will also give more technical players like Eze and Olise a chance to stake a claim to regular starting spots. Eze was an absolute nightmare for Premier League defenses before he picked up an unfortunate ACL injury last season. Olise on the other hand has shown glimpses of talent since his move from Reading in the summer. Olise came on to score a consolation goal in the Eagles’ last match against West Ham, and opened the scoring against Millwall in today’s FA Cup match. FPL managers should keep a close eye on this duo as they are capable lighting up attacks and rewarding managers with points.

Prediction – At least quarterfinal

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Chiekhou Kouyate – 4.5m

Country – Senegal

Potential replacement – Luka Milivojevic (5.3m)

Defensive midfielder Kouyate is like Zaha in influencing his side’s style of play. The combative midfielder’s ability to shield the ball and control a game from the base of midfield has been invaluable this season as the Eagles have adopted a more possession-based style of play under Viera. His raw strength and tenacity will be missed, but Viera will take solace from the fact that captain Milivojevic is also capable in that role. Kouyate isn’t as adept at scoring or creating goals, so managers might get added value in backing Milivojevic who is also expected to become the team’s penalty taker in the absence of Zaha.

Prediction – At least quarterfinal


Everton

Alex Iwobi (5.8m)

Country – Nigeria

Potential replacement – None

Alex Iwobi’s inconsistent performances continue to justify Arsenal’s decision to sell him after he broke into the first team in 2015. While his talent is obvious for all to see, Everton’s attacking midfielder has never been able to produce on a consistent basis. His tendency to make a wrong pass or wrong decision at a crucial moment has always been a weakness for him. This season, he has been in and out of the Toffees’ starting-XI. It is however hard to envisage Iwobi in Rafa Benitez’ starting lineup when everyone is fit and ready to go. Iwobi has managed just one goal plus an assist in the Premier League this season.

Prediction – At least quarterfinal


Leicester

Daniel Amartey (3.8m)

Country - Ghana

Potential replacement – None

Amartey has enjoyed a slightly good season for Leicester this season, getting more playing time and putting in some outstanding performances. Amartey has made ten appearances in the league while being ever present in cup competitions. Leicester will miss Amartey’s ability to come off the bench when needed and produce top quality performances like he did in the GW-20 fixture against Liverpool. Amartey’s owners might however be better off keeping hold of him throughout his participation at Afcon due to his relatively budget friendly price.

Prediction – At least quarterfinal

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Kelechi Iheanacho (6.9m)

Country – Nigeria

Potential replacement – Ademola Lookman (6.0m) / Harvey Barnes (6.5m)

Leicester will be especially hit by the timing of Iheanacho’s absence due to injuries to the club’s two other strikers Patson Daka and Jamie Vardy. Iheanacho, Vardy and Daka have all spent time this season playing as the Foxes’ top striker, each of them failing to make the position his own. However, Iheanacho’s exploits last season that saw him score 16 goals, and recent performances like the one against Man City, will leave fans and Rodgers biting their tongues at how important Iheanacho could have been while the other two are out. Limited options in attack might lead to a change of system by Rodgers, which will see either Harvey Barnes or Ademola Lookman play up top. Despite being in and out of the team this season, Lookman and Barnes have contributed three goals, two assists and two goals respectively. This is one situation FPL managers should monitor as both players are capable of rewarding managers with points if played up front. Lookman started in the No. 9 role in the FA Cup defeat of Watford today, assisting two of the Foxes’ four goals, while Barnes was deployed on the left wing in that match and scored his team’s third.

Prediction – At least quarterfinal

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Wilfred Ndidi (4.8m)

Country – Nigeria

Potential replacement – Soumare (4.8m)

Over the years, Wilfred Ndidi has established himself as one of the best defensive midfielders in the Premier League. His importance to Leicester cannot be overstated as he has repeatedly shown that he can single-handedly protect the back line and give room for the likes of Maddison and Tielemans to perform their magic up front. Leicester might find it a little easy to find a replacement for him during his absence as they have had to play without him for over a month when he picked up a hamstring injury earlier in the season. Ndidi’s mere 0.9% ownership is a clear testament to the fact that he isn’t a goal scorer or creator. Therefore, it makes little or no sense to bring in his obvious replacement Soumare into your FPL teams. Soumare has only one assist to his name this season.

Prediction – At least quarterfinal


Liverpool

Mo Salah (12.8m)

Country – Egypt

Potential replacement – Oxlade Chamberlain 5.8m / Takumi Minamino 5.1m

We will all miss the services of Salah... or won’t we? Salah’s record of 16 goals and 9 assists in the Premier League shows how big of a miss he will be for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. The Egyptian has repeatedly helped dig the Reds out of difficult situations this season, so it will be interesting to see how Liverpool will cope without him. Deciding to either sell or keep Salah is dicey as we expect him to advance at least as far as the quarterfinal. If your decision is to sell Salah, make sure to bank enough funds to make a straight-swap purchase on his return without having to take a hit. You should also sell him before his price drops further from the flood of other managers’ selling (it’s already down £0.2 from its GW-18 peak). His potential replacements, Oxlade Chamberlain and Minamino have done little to convince managers this season. Minamino seems like a more attractive option if he is selected as he is more of a direct goal threat than Chamberlain. However, his record of just one Premier League goal scored for Liverpool this season doesn’t make for good reading.

Prediction – At least quarterfinal

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Sadio Mane (11.8m)

Country – Senegal

Potential replacement – Roberto Firmino (8.7m)

Liverpool’s loss of Salah is compounded by his partner in crime also departing to serve as Senegal’s captain. He has somewhat tailed off in recent weeks, scoring just once in the last eight game-weeks. He however remains a crucial part of a Liverpool team that has fallen behind in the title race. Mane’s absence might see Jota shifted to the left to accommodate Firmino as the club’s central striker. Investing in Firmino might be a wise move as the burden of the Reds attack will fall to him and Jota.

Prediction – At least quarterfinal

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Naby Keita (5.0m)

Country – Guinea

Potential replacement - None

While maybe not as important as Salah or Mane, Keita’s importance shouldn’t be understated as he has shown signs of finally adapting to Jurgen Klopp’s style of play this season. Despite failing to nail down a position in Klopp’s starting line-up, Keita has featured in eleven Premier League games for the Reds. He has also contributed two goals plus one assist to Reds’ title tilt in this campaign.

Prediction – Round of 16 exit


Man City

Riyad Mahrez (8.7m)

Country – Algeria

Potential replacement – Phil Foden (8.1m)

Will Mahrez’ absence be felt? At first glance, one might think losing a player responsible for 14 goals plus 5 assists would be a hard hit for City. However, Pep’s rotation policy has made his team too organized to rely on the brilliance of any one player. The likes of Ilkay Gundogan and João Cancelo stood tall when it mattered most in the absence of Kevin De Bruyne last season. We have seen Bernardo Silva take his game to another level this season. The sheer quality and brilliance of Pep Guardiola’s set-up makes it hard to think the absence of Mahrez would be enough to stop the Citizens’ winning run or deflect them from their title trajectory. The absence might allow Foden or Grealish to enjoy more playing time. FPL managers should pay extra attention to how the situation develops as Foden has shown time and time again that he is lethal in front of goal.

Prediction – At least quarterfinal


Man United

Eric Bailly (4.9m)

Country - Ivory Coast

Potential replacement – None

Manchester United’s decision to let Bailly fly before the clash against Wolves while Wolves held on to Romain Saiss for that fixture shows the level of importance of each player to his team. Bailly has had to make do with bench roles and Cup competitions this season. The arrival of Rafael Varane from Real Madrid has only pushed Bailly further down in the battle for the two center-back spots in the team.

Prediction – At least quarterfinal


Southampton

Moussa Djenepo (5.2m)

Country – Mali

Potential replacement – None

Djenepo has made just eight appearances for Southampton this season, only five of them starts. Despite being a very tricky winger, Djenepo’s inconsistency and lack of finishing has repeatedly stopped him from taking a step to the next level. His reduced involvement for the Saints this season clearly indicates that Ralph Hasenhuttl’s patience and belief in him might be waning. Djenepo is yet to contribute a goal or an assist to the Saints’ Premier League campaign this season.

Prediction – At least R-16


Watford

Special note: Emmanuel Dennis has been excused from duty for Nigeria, and he is expected to recover from a recent knock in time to face Newcastle in GW-22.

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William Troost-Ekong (4.3m)

Country – Nigeria

Potential replacement – Nicolas Nkoulou (4.4m) / Francisco Sierralta (4.3m)

Ekong has been an integral part of a Watford defense that is yet to keep a clean sheet this season. The center-back has been in and out of the Hornets’ starting line-up, with a total of 16 league appearances. A sojourn to Afcon might have come at the perfect time; the Nigerian has experienced a horrid patch in recent weeks. Ekong has been responsible for a number of bad decisions and lapses in concentration that have cost the Hornets points and clean sheets. Ekong’s departure should see Nicolas Nkoulou or Francisco Sierralta enjoy a run of games. However, the Hornets’ woeful defensive record makes investing in his replacements unwise.

Prediction – At least quarterfinal

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Adam Masina (4.3m)

Country – Morocco

Potential replacement – Hassane Kamara (4.5m)

Adam Masina has had to share the left-back position this season with Danny Rose. Both fullbacks have been in a battle to tie down the spot, with manager Claudio Ranieri rotating them depending on suitability to fixtures. Normally Masina’s Afcon duty would guarantee a run in the team for Rose, but rumors of his imminent departure from the club in the January window are swirling, and he was left out of the squad that lost to Leicester in the FA Cup today. The left back slot is therefore likely to fall to Hassane Kamara, whom the Hornets just bought from Nice. The 27 year-old was named to the bench against Leicester despite joining the team only four days prior. However, FPL managers must account for Watford’s woeful defensive record when considering the Bees’ new-boy.

Prediction – At least quarterfinal

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Imran Louza

Country – Morocco

Potential Replacement - Another DM who won’t earn many points either

Louza has started five of Watford’s last seven Premier League games in defensive midfield, but like most holding middies probably isn’t in your side to be missed.

Prediction – At least quarterfinal


West Ham

Said Benrahma (5.9m)

Country – Algeria

Potential replacement – Pablo Fornals

The timing of Benrahma’s departure might leave Hammers’ fans particularly angry and frustrated as he has just recently shown signs of returning to form. Benrahma has scored two goals and added an assist in the Hammers’ last three games after failing to score or assist in the previous seven. The upcoming fixture against Norwich would have been the perfect game to solidify his return to form. The absence of Benrahma should see Fornals enjoy more playing time. The Spanish midfielder will relish having a run of matches after being in and out of the team this season.

Prediction - At least quarterfinal


How are your fantasy EPL teams being affected by African call-ups? How will you manage? Is anyone planning to play a chip in GW-22, only halfway through the January transfer window? Is anyone sacrificing a huge discount in Fantrax? And which absent player(s) are you carrying in which formats? Please tell us your story and ask your questions in the comments below!

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