There’s no doubt that the upcoming African Cup of Nations looks a little easier to plan for Fantasy managers this time round. The qualifying campaign was filled with shocks aplenty- Egypt, winners of the last three tournaments, were omitted, as were the likes of Cameroon and Nigeria, sparing several key Fantasy assets from leaving these shores over the winter period.
The tournament is due to kick off on January 21st but FIFA rules means that the participants can call up their players fourteen days prior to the opening match. Given that the final is not until February 12th, this potentially means players could be absent from domestic duties from gameweek 21 to gameweek 25 inclusive.
Group Stages– 21st January to 1st February
Quarter Finals– 4-5 February
Semi Finals– 8th February
Third Place Play-off, Final– 11-12 February
The initial group stages don’t finish until 1st February, meaning any players involved can be expected to miss out until gameweek 24 at the earliest- this kicks off on 4th February, though whether any Premier League managers will rush their players back is debatable. Gameweek 25 starts on the 11th February and is perhaps the likeliest return date for those eliminated early.
With gameweek 26 not until 25th February, any players who may reach the final will have almost a fortnight before the next league game comes around but with the possibility of a 5 match absence looming over some, we take a look at the clubs most likely to be affected and the knock-on consequences:
Arsene Wenger will rue the loss of Gervinho on the left of his front three. The Ivory Coast star has started 10 of the last 11 games since returning from suspension and has established himself as a major player in the Gunners first XI as the season unfolds. Marouane Chamakh also departs to star for Morocco but given he’s started one league game all season, won’t be much missed at the Emirates.
Andrei Arshavin perhaps seems the most obvious option to step into the left of the Gunners front three in Gervinho’s absence. The Russian started all three games when Gervinho was suspended at the start of the season but with a single goal and no assists to his name after 513 minutes, to say he’s disappointed is something of a grand understatement. Yossi Benayoun could come into the frame as well, though it’s noticeable that Wenger has yet to start him since his loan move from Chelsea.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could be an outside bet. He possesses the pace and directness of Gervinho, whereas the aforementioned duo are perhaps more intricate in their build-up play, while Chu-Young Park can play across the front three and may be in line for some game time, though he has yet to play in the league thus far.
Possible Absence– swa, MUN, bol, BLA, sun
The Blues will need to make do without Ivory Coast pair Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou. While the latter’s absence will have minimal effect, Drogba has established himself as the number one centre forward of late for Andre Villas-Boas’ side, having started the last four league games in a row. With Nicolas Anelka leaving for pastures new in January, the options up front are further restricted. Although Ghana have qualified, Michael Essien won’t be going- Andre Villas-Boas confirmed this only yesterday, as the player continues his recovery from a cruciate ligament injury.
Step forward Fernando Torres. The Spaniard looks set to have the platform and game time to demonstrate his capabilities and a run of matches may provide the springboard his shattered confidence desperately needs. Romelu Lukaku also comes to the fore as a back-up option while Daniel Sturridge, despite his protestations, will remain wide right.
Possible Absence– SUN, nor, swa, MUN, eve
Robert Mancini will bid farewell to Yaya and Kolo Toure, as the brothers head off to represent Ivory Coast. While the latter’s departure will have minimal disruption to the first XI, Yaya’s loss is, arguably, the biggest blow for any of the Premier League clubs. The only outfield player to start all fifteen of City’s games, his importance to the City cause cannot be underestimated.
City’s strength in depth and the versatility of the likes of James Milner affords Mancini a few options. There’s always the possibility of Nigel De Jong filling in alongside Gareth Barry but, if Milner gets the nod in central midfield, the game time of Samir Nasri and Adam Johnson on the flanks could be set for an increase. Mancini also cited the acquisition of Owen Hargreaves during the summer as a potential back-up plan for Toure’s departure, though whether the former United man will steer clear of injury is perhaps another matter.
Possible Absence– wig, TOT, eve, FUL, avl
Alan Pardew’s side will be without two of their most influential players, with Cheik Tiote and Demba Ba turning out for Ivory Coast and Senegal respectively. Tiote has, of course, been absent for some time now with a knee problem- his last appearance was back in gameweek 9 but has a chance of returning this weekend against Swansea. Ba has been a Fantasy sensation so far this season- the fourth-top scoring forward with 92 points and will be a significant loss, given his current 21.7% ownership and cut-price value of 7.2.
Dan Gosling slotted in alongside Yohan Cabaye in central midfield at Norwich last weekend and although he is due to serve a three-match suspension following his dismissal against the Canaries, will be available from gameweek 19 onwards. Danny Guthrie is currently sidelined with a groin strain and is unlikely to appear before the 15th January. Pardew has recently hinted at a possible start for Mehdi Abeid in midfield, with Alan Smith also a possibility.
Leon Best looks the likeliest benefactor up front. Pardew has preferred Hatem Ben Arfa alongside Ba of late, but Best seems in pole position for a first-team start. The likes of Shola and Sammy Ameobi also come into the equation, with Peter Lovenkrands an outside bet.
Possible Absence– QPR, ful, bla, AVL, tot
Both Adel Taarabt and Armand Traore will be missing for Neil Warnock, heading off to represent Morocco and Senegal respectively. Taarabt’s loss will have a minimal effect at best; no goals or assist, no game time since gameweek 10, there’s every chance he wouldn’t feature even if he was available. Traore’s versatility will be missed, though; the former Arsenal man has featured at both left-back and on the left wing under Warnock and has bagged a couple of assists since his summer move.
Tommy Smith started on the left wing last week at Liverpool, though Shaun-Wright-Phillips has also started there a couple of times this season. At the back, the likes of Clint Hill and Matthew Connolly may be afforded a chance to make their mark as part of the defensive unit.
Possible Absence– new, WIG, avl, WOL, bla
Roberto Martinez will also have to make do without Mohamed Diame, who will represent Senegal. His absence will clearly have a significant effect- he’s started all but one of the Latics games and is a crucial component of the first XI.
Diame’s absence looks like good news for Ben Watson. Having previously started every one of the first eleven gameweeks, the latter has found himself out of favour of late and has failed to play a single minute since in a run that has seen Wigan record 2 wins and a draw in the subsequent 4 games. James McArthur is another option for Martinez, with David Jones and James McCarthy looking nailed-on for the other two places in the midfield three.
Possible Absence– MCI, qpr, tot, EVE, bol