With the African Nations set to begin on the 21st of January 2012 and the final not being played until the 12th of February many Premier League players will leave their sides for a minimum of about four weeks later this month. How will this affect the Premier League clubs who lose players to the tournament?
Manchester City: Yaya and Kolo Toure
The loss of Kolo will probably not be felt as badly as the loss of the far more influential Yaya Toure, however the absence of Kolo will leave City somewhat light at the back with only three other centre back options in Lescott, Kompany and the unproven Savic. On the face of it this isn’t a huge loss as Kolo rarely starts but were there to be an injury to Lescott or Kompany Savic may find himself out of his depth, although Micah Richards could play centre back if required.
Yaya’s absence will probably see increased playing time for Nigel De Jong who has only started four times this season. In theory this is relatively like for like but De Jong is a sideways passing midfield destroyer whereas much of Yaya’s influence this season has been exerted in the final third with him scoring three times and getting four assists, often surging forward to support the forward players evidenced by the surging run that won City the penalty for their third goal against Liverpool. Yaya actually contributes 1.4 key passes per game making him more of a creative attacking influence than James Milner as well as Mario Balotteli. De Jong in contrast inhis 7 appearances has only contributed 0.3 key passes per game. Yaya Toure also has completed more passes than any other City player with an average of 78.8 per game over 20 more passes per game than David Silva.
With Cote D’Ivoire likely to go far in the tournament City will miss him despite having a squad that is more than adequate to cover. Another option for City could be to play the industrious James Milner in the Yaya role in games City are expected to win. Kolo on the other hand having only started four games is more of a squad player who City can cover the absence of more comfortably.
Chelsea: Didier Drogba, Solomon Kalou
Many observers will predict that the Afcon tournament would seriously impact on Chelsea’s season, Kalou has only made two starts and Didier Drogba has only contributed three Premier League goals. The major impact will be that Chelsea’s squad is no longer what it once was and the loss of Drogba and Kalou, two forward players, along with the sale of Anelka will mean that Chelsea only have five forward players for three slots one of whom Lukaku who has yet to start a league game. Despite this, even with the absence of Sturridge against Wolves AVB opted to play Ramires on the right rather than recalling Anelka, Kalou or Malouda, neither of whom have found any form this season. Although with Drogba gone Chelsea only have one other central striker option in the out of form Torres, unless AVB wants to shift things and play Sturridge down the middle, which with Chelsea’s lack of forward options is unlikely.
The only positive that could emerge out of Afcon is that Torres will be guaranteed a run of games with the absence of Drogba which Chelsea fans will hope can reinvigorate the out of form striker. The starting 11 will thus barely be affected as Chelsea swap one misfiring striker for another, it’s worth noting that Drogba only has one more league goal than Torres and in four fewer starts, but the tournament will leave Chelsea light on options if they do not decide to buy another forward player.
Newcastle United: Demba Ba and Cheick Tiote
Newcastle stand to lose a lot from the tournament as they’ll lose two of their best players, Demba Ba to Senegal as well as Cheick Tiote to Cote D’Ivoire. The sides over reliance on Ba is obvious, his 15 goals are 4 more than the 11 scored by the rest of the outfield players combined. Leon Best is the clubs next top scorer with just three and its unlikely that he could fill the goal scoring void left by Ba who has been one of the signings of the season so far.
Tiote too will also be a huge loss for the club. Newcastle did cope without him earlier this season through injury but his contribution from midfield to the clubs good defensive record cannot be overstated. Tiote has intercepted more passes than any Newcastle player this season as well as being the clubs third highest tackler per game, two stats that are key for any midfield destroyer like Tiote.
Cabaye has been a fine player for Newcastle this season and is their top tackler and can thus continue to marshal the midfield in the absence of Tiote but without a huge squad any other midfield injuries could cause problems for Newcastle which may prompt Alan Pardew into signing this window. Tiote is, like Yaya for City, the heartbeat of Newcastle’s midfield with 62.3 passes per game over 20 passes more per game than the clubs next best passer in Cabaye. As a more defence minded play many of these passes may be sideways but this is still of great importance to the side who are more methodical and industrious than they are expansive.
After a huge 3-0 victory over Manchester United yesterday Newcaslte can realistically harbor ambitions to finish in the Europa League places, however the club will be severely tested over the next month with the absence of two of their best players especially the clubs top scorer Ba.
With RVP’s goals being the focus of Arsenal this season it’s easy to forget Gervinho’s contribution so far this season. Gervinho is so far the clubs joint top assister with 5 and at times looks like the only support striker who can penetrate opposition defences with Walcott so often flattering to deceive. His runs in behind are evidenced by him being the clubs top ‘dribbler’ this season, as well as this he is the clubs second top scorer in the league with four. Whether Henry still has the pace to get in behind and play the same role as Gervinho is unlikely.
A side light on attacking options would likely miss any of their players but Gervinho this season has after RVP been the clubs most influential attacking player. With the Cote D’Ivoire likely to go far, Gervinho could miss at least five games including a home game to Manchester United as well as potentialy tricky away games to a Swansea and a resurgent Sunderland. If his side win it will also be unrealistic to assume, with the final being on the 12th of February, that he would be able to feature away at AC Milan on the 15th.
Wigan and QPR
Wigan and QPR also lose players in Armand Traore to Senegal and Gohouri to Cote D’Ivoire although neither players have had a particularly positive impact for their clubs this season.
The Afcon tournament could thus have a real impact at the top of the table especially considering that Man United will not lose any players for the tournament they must be considered its biggest beneficiary. Spurs and Liverpool could also benefit from the weakening of Chelsea and Arsenal as a result of the tournament, as they too are unaffected by it. As stated Chelsea’s squad depth will be more impacted than the first team whereas Arsenal will lose a key member of their side and statistically their second most influential attacking player.
All stats are taken from http://www.whoscored.com/Regions/252/Tournaments/2/England-Premier-League