Africa Cup of Nations will leave Premier League a bit bare
What will Premier League clubs do without some of their best players?
On Sunday, there were 18 goals scored across nine Premier League matches. Of those 18 goals, seven were scored by six African players: Mame Biram Diouf scored two for Stoke City in their win over West Brom, Sadio Mané’s goal made sure Southampton got a point against Chelsea, Riyad Mahrez scored the only goal in Leicester City’s win over Hull, Cheikhou Kouyaté got the consolation goal as West Ham fell to Arsenal, and both Papiss Cissé and Arouna Koné found the net in Newcastle’s 3-2 win over Everton.
Yet it’s unlikely we’ll see the same players scoring next month. The 2015 Africa Cup of Nations begins on January 17, and the called up players need to report by January 5th. The final is on February 8th, so some players might be away from their clubs for over a month — enough time to miss at least three league games and an FA Cup match.
For some sides, this will matter little. Manchester City can continue to chase the title without Yaya Touré, Liverpool, with nothing to play for, can simply go back to playing Dejan Lovren when Kolo steps away. Chelsea and Manchester United won’t be impacted at all.
The teams at the bottom, though, could see their suffering increase. Mahrez may have but two goals, but both proved decisive for Leicester — and how will that defense, already the worst in the league, look when Jeff Schlupp joins up with Ghana?
Crystal Palace haven’t won a game in well over a month, yet now they’re suddenly tasked with attempting to pull themselves out of the drop zone without Yannick Bolasie. With the opposition no longer having to keep an eye on the tricky winner, it’ll be that much simpler for them to stop Palace.
But with the strangeness of the Premier League this season — with the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton struggling to reach or remain in the European positions — it’s the teams challenging for a European place that just might suffer the most when their players leave for AFCON.
Ivory Coast has yet to release their squad for the tournament, but it’s almost certain Wilfried Bony will be on it. That’s bad news for Swansea, as the forward has eight goals already this season. No doubt the Swans, currently in 8th, had been hoping to creep further up the table, but games against West Ham and Chelsea will be made all the more difficult without their star forward.
Speaking of West Ham, they look likely to suffer soon. Kouyaté has been called up for Senegal’s provisional squad, as has Diafra Sakho, who takes the place of Demba Ba. Sakho has seven league goals this season, but he’s scored just once after his month-long injury layoff … which occurred after he went on duty with Senegal in November. But at least the Irons won’t be without Alex Song who, despite being terrific in the league this season, has not been called up by Cameroon.
Finally there’s Newcastle. It’s been a tough month for the Magpies, who just recorded their first win in seven matches. But things could be about to get worse. Cissé, who now has nine goals from just six starts and seven appearances off the bench, has been named to Senegal’s provisional squad. Cheick Tioté could end up named for Ivory Coast, Mehdi Abeid will remain with Algeria. With games against Chelsea and Southampton ahead, as well as an FA Cup tie against Leicester, even a small depletion in the Newcastle squad could mean the end of their European hopes.
This edition of the Africa Cup of Nations has already given us plenty of drama, from the Ebola fears to the switch of venue to Nigeria’s inability to qualify for the finals. We’ve got a Group of Death, with Ghana, Algeria, South Africa and Senegal all drawn together. New faces could dominate the tournament. Yet for some Premier League sides, it could bring nothing but misery.