The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) is finally set to take place in January and February 2022. The competition was supposed to take place last year and this summer but was rescheduled due to a combination of COVID-19 and climate concerns.
How AFCON Will Disrupt Premier League Season
Premier League Affected Badly By AFCON
Approximately 40 Premier League players will be involved in AFCON and according to The Athletic players will have to leave soon after the final whistle on boxing day. Players on teams who go all the way will not finish play until the second week of February, missing up to 8 Premier League games. We look at which teams will be most heavily affected and how they may cope.
That Chelsea Vs Liverpool Game
One of the biggest games taking place over the festive period is Chelsea vs Liverpool but unfortunately, this game between the favorites is one of the games most heavily hit by AFCON. Liverpool will be missing Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, and Naby Keita while Chelsea will be without Edouard Mendy and Hakim Ziyech. Takumi Minamino will likely get a rare chance to shine in a big game and Kepa Arrizabalaga will have to stay mistake-free in the Chelsea goal. AFCON has reduced the quality of such a big game in the Premier League calendar so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the two clubs arrange deals with their player’s nations or the Premier League rearrange the game altogether.
The Clubs Most Heavily Affected by AFCON
Watford are the team most heavily hit by AFCON numbers-wise. Claudio Ranieri will be without 5 players during a crucial part of the season. Watford has winnable games against Newcastle United, Norwich City, and Brighton & Hove Albion during this run. It’s not just the number of players missing, the quality of them is a worry. William Troost-Ekong, Ismailia Sarr, and Emmanuel Dennis have all played every game this season for the Hornets. Ranieri will have to hope Joshua King, Joao Pedro, Cucho Hernandez, and Ashley Fletcher can provide the goals until Sarr and Dennis return.
If they haven’t had enough misery already this season, Arsenal will be without 3 key players during a hectic festive period. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Thomas Partey, and Nicolas Pepe will all depart meaning Arsenal will be lacking steel in midfield and firepower in attack. To make matters worse, backup midfielder Mohamed Elneny is also likely to play in AFCON despite playing just one Premier League game this term. Arsenal will have to rely on Granit Xhaka, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, and Albert Lokonga in matches against Manchester City and Tottenham. With Pepe and Aubameyang gone, Arsenal will have to rely on the youngsters to get goals.
As mentioned, Liverpool will be without Salah, Mane, and Keita for two games against Leicester City and an away trip to Stamford Bridge. If Liverpool can get players fit in midfield, then Keita’s absence may be dealt with just fine but Salah and Mane’s absence will obviously be badly felt. No one but the duo scored 10 Premier League goals last season and Salah has also been Liverpool’s chief creator this season with 4 assists. A slight relief will be that Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi have looked good in their rare games this season and Roberto Firmino has looked back to his best. However, the difficulty of these games may see Liverpool fall out of the title race so securing Champions League progress in the next few weeks may become the priority.
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