The African Cup of Nations kicks off on January 14th and unlike the World Cup or European Championships, takes place every other year, rather than every four years.
For Premier League teams this means that key players could be missing for up to 4 games between January and February depending on how far their player’s respective countries go in the tournament.
But what is the impact of this tournament on Premier League teams and who will be impacted the most?
The African Cup of Nations is of course a very fun, colourful tournament that gives African players a huge ‘shop window’ to get noticed by big European clubs. This year the tournament was due to take place in Libya until the Confederation of African Football rescinded its hosting rights in August 2014, due to the ongoing conflict. The tournament was therefore relocated to Gabon who are now the host nation.
The winner of AFCON 2017 will get a place in the 2017 FIFA Confederations cup that takes place in Russia at the end of June.
16 teams have qualified for the tournament including Algeria, Cameroon, Egypt and Ivory Coast who are currently the tournament favourites. Although 3 time winners Nigeria failed to qualify, perhaps a shock for most considering the crop of young talent they have coming through.
Which Premier League teams will be impacted the most?
There are 7 Premier League teams that are unaffected by AFCON 2017 which includes Burnley, Middlesbrough, Swansea and West Brom. There are also 3 sides in the title race who are have no players at the tournament; Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur will all be unaffected. This could have a bearing on the positioning of the top 4 going into the final 3rd of the season.
Manchester United’s summer signing Eric Bailly is one of 4 top-flight players named by Michel Dussuyer for the Ivory Coast, as they look to retain their title. At one point this looked like it could be a huge miss for United, however due to a knee injury over the past few weeks, Man United have had to cope without Bailly, and they have done that with Marcus Rojo and Phil Jones both stepping up to the plate. United also have Chris Smalling returning from injury so the impact for them won’t be as large.
Crystal Palace will miss Wilfred Zaha who made the decision to play for Ivory Coast rather than England. Zaha showed the quality he has, scoring a fantastic overhead kick in their defeat to Swansea in early January, and will be a big miss for Palace who will need all their key players as they look to pull their way out of a relegation battle. Depending on how far Ivory Coast get, Zaha could miss a huge relegation 6 pointer against Sunderland, but also games against West Ham and Bournemouth.
One of the teams most impacted by AFCON 2017 will be Liverpool. Whilst they will be without only 1 player, that player in question is Senegal’s Sadio Mane. Mane has been exceptional since his move to Liverpool and is currently their top goal scorer in the league with 9 goals. It means he will miss the massive match against Manchester United, but could also miss the top of the table clash with Chelsea at the end of January. They will however have defender Joel Matip available for selection after he, along with West Bromwich Albion defender Allan Nyom, snubbed a call-up from Cameroon earlier this month.
The other title contenders Arsenal, will be without midfielder Mohamed Elneny, who played in every single minute of Egypt’s qualifying campaign. Elneny is starting to establish himself and has played well recently for Arsenal. The fact that Francis Coquelin could be out for up to 4 weeks, with an injury picked up against Bournemouth, means the Arsenal midfield will lose a bit of steel in the middle of the park over the next month.
Another side likely to be impacted quite heavily is Leicester City, who have no less than three players at the tournament. Most notably however is Riyad Mahrez, having recently won the African player of the year, and Islam Slimani who will both line up for Algeria. It’s no secret Leicester have been poor this season and currently sit 15th in the Premier League. Losing two key players for such a long period of time, at a point where the team is already underperforming could be a big problem for Claudio Ranieri. They will miss Leicester’s game against Chelsea on the 14th January and depending on how far Algeria get in the tournament, could also miss the game against Manchester United in early February.
Full List of Premier League Players at AFCON 2017
Whilst for the Premier League managers impacted, the next month could be a tough time, for the fans it adds to the unpredictability of the league and could change how the top, and bottom of the of the table looks going into the final third of the season.
But let’s not forget, the AFCON 2017 should be a great tournament and is a competition that showcases the talent African football has on offer, bringing us some of the Premier Leagues top performers over recent years such as Diddier Drogba, Yaya Toure and Riyad Mahrez. You can watch coverage of the tournament on ITV 4 and Eurosport.
By Michael Thatcher