The latest edition of the Africa Cup of Nations kicks off on January 9th. The month-long tournament sees 24 teams from the continent compete for a place in the showpiece final which this time takes place at the Olembe Stadium in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
Many players from the European leagues will play in the competition. The Premier League is no exception with upwards of 40 players expected to take part at AFCON. This will affect numerous games. During the month-long tournament, England will host three Premier League matchdays, a full round of FA Cup fixtures and the EFL Cup semi-finals.
16 of the 20 Premier League clubs have at least one player in their first-team squad who is expected to play at AFCON. The full list of players is at the bottom of this article.
Which Premier League Clubs Have the Most Players at AFCON?
Arsenal will lose the most players to AFCON. The Gunners will lose captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – although that is nothing new for them. They’ll also be without midfielders Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny as well as winger Nicolas Pepe. Youngster Omar Rekik has also been called up.
Watford will also lose a few. Key man Ismaila Sarr has been selected by Senegal although he is currently injured. William Troost-Ekong should play for Nigeria. Adam Masina and Imran Louza are expected to join up with Morocco.
The Gunners and the Hornets will lose the most players but Liverpool will perhaps be the hardest hit. The Reds will lose three players during the tournament including Mohamed Salah who will play for Egypt. Sadio Mane will join up with Senegal and midfielder Naby Keita should play for Guinea.
Crystal Palace will lose star man Wilfried Zaha along with three others. Leicester City will also lose four players including midfielder Wilfred Ndidi.
Either through luck or planning, four Premier League clubs won’t lose any players to the tournament. Tottenham, Leeds, Newcastle and Norwich are the fortunate quartet that could benefit from the scheduling.
Some big matches will be affected by this including Manchester City vs Chelsea and a North London Derby. Expect all of the games on matchday 22 to have at least one player absent. The group stages end on January 20th so some players from eliminated teams could return in time for matchday 23 between the 21st and 23rd.
The tournament ends on the 6th of February. All players should be back in England in time for matchday 24 between February 8th and 10th. Whether those who feature in the final will be fully match fit is another story.
How Has AFCON and the Asian Cup Affected the Premier League in the Past?
This is the first edition of the Africa Cup of Nations since 2019 but things were slightly different. That tournament in Egypt was the only AFCON to take place during the summer months.
2017 was the most recent AFCON held during the Premier League season. It wasn’t as much of an issue. 21 Premier League players headed to Gabon for the tournament that year. That list included several current players including Wilfried Zaha, Riyad Mahrez and Sadio Mane.
Sunderland lost three key players to the tournament. They played two Premier League matches without all three and lost both of them. Those games came against mid-table sides in a season in which Sunderland finished bottom of the table. Crystal Palace lost both matches without star man Wilfried Zaha but the Eagles were already on a lengthy winless run with the Ivorian in the side.
Liverpool were heavily affected in 2017. The Reds only lost one man - Sadio Mane - but his absence was felt hard. Mane only missed two matches - a 1-1 draw with Manchester United and a 3-2 defeat to Swansea. Those dropped points hurt Liverpool who finished two points behind 3rd-placed Manchester City that year.
But not all teams are worse off without their absent players. Most were worse off in 2017 and 2019 but some actually improved. Southampton took two points per game in their four matches without Maya Yoshida in 2019. They took an average of 0.91 in the other 34.
Go back to 2015 and the majority of sides were actually better off. 6 of the 11 Premier League sides who lost players to AFCON or the Asian Cup in 2015 took the same or more points per game without their missing players than with them. Another two saw a small drop off.
How Has AFCON & the Asian Cup Affected Premier League Betting?
We looked back through the Premier League betting markets during the last few editions of the Africa Cup of Nations and the Asian Cup. The expectation would be that sides missing players grossly underperform as they lose key men for several busy weeks. However, we found that teams generally overperform expectations.
Bookies and punters alike tend to undervalue sides who lose key players to the international competitions.
Since 2015, backing (at even stakes) every team that had players missing against opponents who did not in the 1X2 market, returned a profit of +29.57 units, a return on investment across 64 matches of +46.2% .
A shock Newcastle victory over Manchester City in 2019 does much of the heavy lifting there (paying on the win at odds of 15.30) but there is value in the Asian lines also. Backing those same sides with players missing against opponents who did in the Asian handicap market returned a profit of +9.25 at even stakes, a win rate of 59.8%.
Further, betting on the draw at even stakes in these games returned a woeful -29.87 loss, while betting Over 2.5 goals in each game returned a profit of +2.57 units, a return of 4.02% and a win rate of 54.69%.
What about matches where both teams had players missing? In those 18 matches, we see very different results. Such matches saw the draw pay a profit of +15.3 units, a return of +85% with Under 2.5 goals paying +5.11 units at even stakes with a win rate of 66.7%/
There are some obvious issues with this research. Firstly we are talking a relatively small sample size of just under 100 matches in total.
Further, It’s hard to calculate the importance of the departing players and the ability of those players replacing them. The difficulty of the fixtures must also be considered. It doesn’t take into account form immediately before and after the mid-season tournaments.
However, it does suggest that people overestimate the importance of losing players to these competitions. Injuries and suspensions are inevitable in football throughout the season. Teams adapt to that out of necessity with little trouble.
Losing players to mid-season tournaments is a little different. Management can plan well in advance and rotate the squad accordingly. That’s the difference and perhaps explains why losing players to AFCON or the Asian Cup isn’t as devastating as fans and even bookies expect.
- Bet on teams with missing players when playing opponents who are not missing players
- Bet on Over 2.5 goals in matches with players missing players against opponents who are not missing players
- Bet the Draw and Under 2.5 goals in matches where both teams are missing players