Which Premier League teams will be affected most by the 2015 AFCON?
"Our problem is to make sure we overcome the loss of our African Cup players and hopefully not let that impede too much on our results and position in the league," West Ham boss Sam Allardyce said prior to the 1-1 draw with West Brom on New Year's Day. The Hammers manager will be forced to make do without Senegalese duo Diafra Sakho and Cheikhou Kouyaté for the rest of January, and, depending on how Senegal perform, could be without them until mid-February. Furthermore, the east London side are waiting to hear if Cameroon are to hand Alex Song a late call up after he failed to secure a place in their original 24-man squad.
The problem with signing African players is that, if they are of exceptional quality and their nation qualifies for the continental competition, they are likely to miss a chunk of the season when the African Cup of Nations rolls around. Over January and February, the FA Cup returns - with the possibility of a replay - while Premier League players also have to recover from a hectic festive schedule.
Sakho and Kouyaté could miss as many as 4 league games and will play no part when they take on the Everton in the FA Cup on Tuesday. The duo’s absences will be felt. Sakho has scored more league goals (8) than any other West Ham player this season and more than the Hammers’ top goalscorer last season, with Kevin Nolan netting 7 goals over the entire campaign.
Only 3 West Ham players have earned a better WhoScored rating than the 25-year-old (7.19) in the Premier League this season. Meanwhile, only Mark Noble (2.9) is averaging more tackles per league game of all West Ham players than Kouyaté (2.8) this term. Not only are West Ham losing their primary attacking threat to the AFCON, but also a key defensive member in the middle of the park. If Cameroon do indeed call up Song at the last minute, their European hopes would be served a serious hammer blow.
Yaya Toure or wilfried Bony – who is the bigger loss?
However, Yaya Touré is arguably the biggest loss of all players to depart for the African Cup of Nations. Touré’s WhoScored rating (7.57) is the 6th best of all players in England’s top tier this term. After a sub-standard start to the campaign, the Manchester City star has returned to form, directly contributing to a goal in 7 of his last 9 appearances in the Premier League, also winning the WhoScored man of the match award in 3 of those. The 31-year-old was rested for the recent 2-2 draw with Burnley and he was certainly missed as the champions dropped points at home to newly promoted opposition.
Touré is 1 of 4 Premier League stars called up by the Ivory Coast for the competition, along with brother Kolo, Newcastle’s Cheick Tioté and Swansea’s star striker Wilfried Bony. Bony has scored 36% of Swansea's 25 league goals this season; only QPR’s Charlie Austin (54.5%) has scored a greater proportion of his teams' goals in England's top tier so far.
The Ivorian has scored the same number of goals as Papiss Demba Cissé, who, like Bony, will also soon be off to Equatorial Guinea. The 29-year-old has rediscovered his goalscoring touch for Newcastle this season having bagged just 2 league goals in the whole of 2013/14. Cissé is part of the Senegalese quintet departing this month, along with Mame Biram Diouf, Sadio Mané and aforementioned West Ham pair Sakho and Kouyaté.
While Stoke could cope without Diouf, whose WhoScored rating (6.72) is one of the worst of all Potters performers, Southampton will sure miss Mané. The former Red Bull Salzburg attacker has come into form of late, directly contributing to 4 goals in his last 3 league games. The loan signing of Eljero Elia will go some way to easing his loss, but the Dutchman’s poor performances for Werder Bremen suggests he will not be capable of replacing Mané. The 22-year-old had gone some way to justifying the hefty fee paid for him and his departure for the African Cup of Nations comes at a bad time for Southampton, who will also be without Emmanuel Mayuka for the next month.
Which club has the most players going to the AFCON?
In terms of quantity rather than quality, it’s Newcastle who will be without the most players as a result of the African Cup of Nations. The Magpies lose Cissé, Tioté and Mehdi Abeid for the tournament this month, with the trio representing Senegal, Ivory Coast and Algeria, respectively. Fellow Algerians in Tottenham’s Nabil Bentaleb and Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City, however, are arguably bigger losses to their Premier League teams than Abeid, who has made only 6 competitive appearances for Newcastle.
Following his return from injury, Bentaleb has established himself as a first team regular under Mauirico Pochettino. His importance is somewhat understated by neutral fans, but he is now a crucial member of what is looking like an impressive starting XI. Spurs have won 7 of the 10 Premier League games Bentaleb has started this season, compared to just 3 of the 10 games he has missed.
Mahrez, meanwhile, has directly contributed to 5 of Leicester’s 19 league goals this season (2 goals and 3 assists). The 23-year-old is averaging more successful dribbles per games (2.5) than any other Leicester player and the Foxes will desperately miss his drive when he joins up with the Algeria national team.
With the Foxes battling to stave off relegation, they will be buoyed by the fact West Brom and Crystal Palace lose Youssouf Mulumbu and Yannick Bolasie, respectively, too. Mulumbu may not have featured as a regularly as he will have hoped this season, but is still a signifcant loss. New manager Tony Pulis would have liked to call upon the services of the combative midfielder as the Baggies strive to pull away from the relegation zone, but must make do with the players at his disposal in midfield until his return.
Bolasie is one of the most exciting players in the Premier League and his directness will be sorely missed by the Eagles this month. Only 7 players are averaging more successful dribbles per game in England’s top tier this term than the Palace winger (2.7), though soon-to-be-appointed manager Alan Pardew is fortunate enough to be able to utilise Jason Puncheon and Wilfried Zaha on the flanks during his absence.
In total, 12 of the 20 Premier League teams will lose at least 1 player to the African Cup of Nations this month and each side will, in one way or another, feel their absence. Whether it’s pursuing the title, striving to secure a European berth or staving off the threat of relegation, those 12 teams will lose a key player in their respective quest to achieve their seasonal goals.
Which Premier League team do you think will suffer the most as a result of the African Cup of Nations? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below