The delayed 2021 edition of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) is still around two months away but its ramifications for Fantasy Premier League (FPL) will be significant, maybe more so than many people realise.
With the November international break representing our last chance to take a collective breath before the festive fixture frenzy starts, it’s worth having a look at which FPL assets we’ll have to do without while AFCON is taking place and how many Gameweeks these players will be absent for.
WHEN DOES AFCON 2021 TAKE PLACE?
The tournament proper runs from Sunday 9 January to Sunday 6 February and will be staged in Cameroon.
With 16 nations progressing from the 24-team group stage, the chances of getting some of the big FPL names back early aren’t great; the likes of Egypt, Ghana, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Algeria are among the tournament favourites and will expect to go deep into the knockout rounds.
|Group stage||Jan 9-20|
|Round of 16||Jan 23-26|
|Third place play-off/Final||Feb 6|
HOW MANY GAMEWEEKS WILL FPL PLAYERS MISS DUE TO THEIR INVOLEMENT AT AFCON?
On paper, the damage doesn’t look too bad. Thanks to a combination of the FA Cup and a wider January international break, only two Gameweeks are affected while AFCON is on: Gameweeks 22 and 23.
However, with the competing countries requiring and allowed pre-tournament prep time with their players, other Gameweeks could be affected before that.
According to FIFA rules…
“Players must be released and start the travel to their representative team no later than Monday morning the week preceding the week when the relevant final competition starts and must be released by the association in the morning of the day after the last match of their team in the tournament.”
With the tournament kicking off on Sunday 9 January, that could mean that players involved in AFCON will be required to leave their clubs on Monday 27 December.
Gameweeks 20 and 21 could also be affected, then, and possibly even the Newcastle United v Manchester United match in Gameweek 19.
And anyone involved in the final or third-place play-off on Sunday 6 February would surely be doubtful for Gameweek 24, which takes place on Tuesday-Wednesday 8-9 February.
Premier League clubs will no doubt try to exploit every legal loophole available to them and delay the departure of their African players but the Athletic reported in October that the December 27 release date still stands for now:
FIFA have confirmed that, as it stands, the start day of individual teams’ tournaments won’t change the original date for when teams need to report. A spokesperson told The Athletic: “FIFA can confirm that the release period for this competition is governed by article 1 paragraph 7 of annexe 1 of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP), which in this case provides a release date of 27 December 2021. This is applicable to all teams regardless of when they play their first match.
One Premier League club who are set to lose multiple players to AFCON call-ups told The Athletic that special dispensation for a January 3 release is only likely to be given if it applies across the board — to all clubs and nations — for the integrity of the competition. It is only Premier League players who would require special treatment among Europe’s top five leagues (Spain, Italy, Germany and France) as elsewhere players won’t be needed for matches from at least December 27 because of winter breaks.
|Gameweek 19||Dec 26-27|
|Gameweek 20||Dec 28-30|
|Gameweek 21||Jan 1-3|
|Gameweek 22||Jan 14-16|
|Gameweek 23||Jan 21-23|
|Gameweek 24||Feb 8-9|
PREMIER LEAGUE PLAYERS AND TEAMS AFFECTED BY AFCON 2021
Up to 40 players from 16 clubs could be representing their respective nations at AFCON in January.
Arsenal, Crystal Palace and Leicester City may have up to four of their players unavailable for Premier League duty in the affected Gameweeks but the worst-hit side looks set to be relegation-threatened Watford, who could have six squad members missing – although one of them, Peter Etebo (£4.4m), looks highly unlikely to feature anyway because of injury.
Leeds United, Newcastle United, Norwich City and Tottenham Hotspur are the four teams that won’t be affected by the tournament in Cameroon.
There are some big names in the below list, the most notable of which is Mohamed Salah (£13.0m).
The 71%-owned leading points-scorer in FPL is one of three Liverpool players who are set to be missing in January and possibly the beginning of February, with Sadio Mane (£11.9m) and Naby Keita (£5.0m) set to turn out for Senegal and Guinea respectively.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£10.1m), Maxwel Cornet (£6.0m), Edouard Mendy (£6.2m), Riyad Mahrez (£8.6m), Ismaila Sarr (£6.1m) and Said Benrahma (£6.4m) are also stand-out names in the table we’ve put together here:
While the majority of the names in the above list will depart for Cameroon over the festive season, we should stress that a few players may miss out.
Emmanuel Dennis (£5.2m) hasn’t been called up by Nigeria in a year, for example, while Wilfried Zaha (£7.0m) didn’t feature in Ivory Coast’s squad in the November international break amid reports of a bust-up between the Palace winger and his national team coach.
WHICH KEY FPL ASSETS COULD BENEFIT FROM THE ABSENCE OF TEAMMATES DURING AFCON?
Diogo Jota (£7.5m) looks set to be a standout beneficiary of Mane and Salah’s absences, just as he is at present thanks to Roberto Firmino‘s (£8.8m) hamstring problem. Divock Origi (£4.9m), Alex Oxlade Chamberlain (£5.8m) and Takumi Minamino (£5.1m) could also be called upon to feature in the Liverpool front three in the affected Gameweeks.
Mendy’s absence for Chelsea will give the cut-price Kepa Arrizabalaga (£4.8m) anything up to five Premier League matches between the posts, while Alexandre Lacazette (£8.3m) – now back in the Arsenal side alongside Aubameyang anyway – will presumably enjoy even greater security of starts while his Gabonese colleague is away.
The unavailability of Mahrez may further aid the chances of sustained game-time for Gabriel Jesus (£8.7m) on the right flank, while Nikola Vlasic (£5.8m) and Andriy Yarmolenko (£5.2m) will be eyeing up Benrahma’s vacated spot in the West Ham attack.