The African Cup of Nations is finally set to take off in January, having already been delayed by a year. The biggest continental prize for the nations is being hosted in Cameroon, and will feature several of the heavyweights. While this might be considered a joyous occasion for the players, not everyone in football is happy.
Fierce matching awaiting you in the 2021 #TotalEnergiesAFCON! 🤩
Which group are you anticipating its matches the most? 👀 pic.twitter.com/oUJliyDArh
— CAF (@CAF_Online) August 17, 2021
Indeed, more than one manager has spoken their frustrations at the fact that their teams will be without players during that period. Since FIFA has not given any relaxations in fixtures, clubs have a right to feel aggrieved and some more than others of course. So, which teams are in most danger of falling behind and how it affects the top-five leagues.
PROBLEMS AT BOTH ENDS
The competition with the most African players and consequently, the most absentees- the Premier League. Only four teams- Spurs, Newcastle United, Norwich City, Leeds United will lose no players to the tournament. That is no doubt great news for everyone involved for two reasons.
Antonio Conte’s side are aiming to get back into the top-four/top-six, an effort which will receive a major boost given he will have a fully available squad at his disposal. The other three clubs are embroiled in a relegation dogfight, and can hardly afford to have players being called for national duty.
After 12 games, Ismaila Sarr has matched his goal tally from his debut Premier League season in 2019/20 (5).
Sarr-sational. 🤩 pic.twitter.com/IsBFtDwt9Z
— William Hill (@WilliamHill) November 20, 2021
From the least affected to the most- Watford and Liverpool. The Hornets have a major fight on their hands in order to save their season, but the quintet of Ismaila Sarr, Emmanuel Dennis, William Troost-Ekong, Adam Masina, and Imran Louza are in the firing line. Though Louza can still not be called up and Sarr stays at the club due to his current injury, the remaining ones are a sure shot.
— Premier League (@premierleague) December 11, 2021
Which is a shame, given Dennis is in brilliant form. 12 goal contributions (seven goals, five assists) is the best for his side and something that will be sorely missed. Masina and Troost-Ekong are regulars in the backline, and that leaky defence will no doubt get even worse.
Jurgen Klopp, one of the most vocal critics of the whole situation, has some fair grumblings. Liverpool are a point behind Manchester City right now, but that gap could widen in January. That is because Sadio Mane and Mo Salah have been firing on all cylinders in the Premier League. Salah is the top goal scorer, having netted 14 times already to go with his nine assists.
◉ 22 games
◉ 21 goals
◉ 9 assists
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 11, 2021
Mane has seven goals and one assist, both of which will be huge misses in a crucial period. Naby Keita is also set to leave, provided he can stay fit. Amongst the top four presently, only Liverpool will be missing such impactful players.
REST OF THE PACK
Arsenal are without club captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, midfield general Thomas Partey, his cover Mohamed Elneny and creative winger Nicolas Pepe. Though Aubameyang and Pepe are in wretched run of form, Mikel Arteta would have slept better knowing he can still call upon their services in January.
🗣 "He is aware of how much we need him in the team to score goals."
Mikel Arteta says Aubameyang's behaviour and training has not been affected by his lack of goals pic.twitter.com/Y8kiLWk6MB
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) December 6, 2021
Manchester City will miss Riyad Mahrez, their red rivals will miss Eric Bailly and Amad Diallo while Chelsea are set to be without Edouard Mendy and Hakim Ziyech. None of those players are not absolutely irreplaceable, even though four of them are solid squad players. City have a plethora of options to plug in the right flank while Bailly is third-choice and with Raphael Varane returning, the worries will ease further.
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) December 7, 2021
Thomas Tuchel has the world’s most expensive goalkeeper to put in Mendy’s place, and Kepa should be full of confidence having won his side two penalty shootouts this season.
Another side that will lose starters and four of them are Crystal Palace. Star man Wilfried Zaha, Jordan Ayew, Cheikhou Kouyate and Jeffrey Schlupp have been regulars under Patrick Vieira. The Eagles will definitely find the going much more difficult and new signing Odsonne Edouard will be starting games now.
Wilfried Zaha for Crystal Palace in the Premier League:
🦅 Most games
🦅 Most goals
🦅 Most assists
🦅 Most wins
The first player to reach a Za-half century of goals. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/Cb0GxtQMsV
— William Hill (@WilliamHill) October 30, 2021
Leicester City, aiming to put an inconsistent run of form behind them, will Wilfred Ndidi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Daniel Amartey the ones to see their numbers up.
BEST OF THE REST
AC Milan will be missing two defensive midfielders and influential presences in Franck Kessie and Ismael Bennacer. Napoli are without Kalidou Koulibaly and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa. This will please Inter no end as they seek to defend their Serie A crown.
Achraf Hakimi will be going from PSG, but it is Nice who have the most players in danger of leaving with Yusuf Fertal, Mario Lemina and most likely Andy Delorte. La Liga will feel the absences of Yacine Bonou and Munir for Sevilla.
The Bundesliga does not have too many representatives at AFCON. Some of the players who can be sure of a call-up include Ramy Bensebaini (Borussia Monchengladbach), Ilhas Bebou (Hoffenheim), Amadou Haidara (Leipzig), Anthony Ujah (Mainz), Taiwo Ayoniyi (Union Berlin), and Bouna Sarr (Bayern Munich).