The African Cup of Nations (AFCON) has altered Premier League team-sheets and performances since the 14th of January, with players representing their national team at the 31st edition of the biennial tournament. Although some teams were damaged more than others, the loss of key players has significantly impacted the performances of teams, and a multitude of FPL managers were left cursing when their prized assets left FPL behind for a chance to win silverware for their nation. With the AFCON group stage finished and the play-offs underway, a host of Premier league players are set to return as nations are eliminated from the tournament. With players returning, more FPL decisions and selection problems arise and need to be taken into account, as AFCON form could transition over into the Premier League for some players.
So, how did FPL assets perform for their nations during AFCON?
Always tipped as one of the favourites to perform and go the distance at AFCON, Ivory Coast have had another lacklustre tournament. Gone are the days of the golden generation of players, but looking at the team set-up there are numerous notable names, with many coming from top European leagues. Three star players that Ivory Coast have in their ranks are ever present Premier League players who find themselves in many FPL squads - Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace), Eric Bailly (Manchester United) and Wilfried Bony (Stoke). In the group stage, Ivory Coast only managed 2 draws (Togo, D.R Congo) and 1 loss (Morocco), resulting in a third placed finish, thus getting knocked out without even recording a win, scoring a miserly 2 goals while conceding 3.
Zaha didn’t show FPL managers anything inspiring to select him upon his return to league, with very little attacking threat presented in the 3 fixtures (0 goals, 0 assists). Starting all three games, Zaha was subbed off on two occasions after not giving his side much value down either wing. This is surprising, as Zaha has been a good differential performer this Premier League season, scoring 4 goals and grabbing 8 assists, getting and assist in every game between GW9-GW13. Crystal Palace desperately need Zaha back to steady their side and aid them in getting out of the relegation zone, and Zaha’s poor form at AFCON might be what the Eagles need, as it might result in Zaha coming back to the Premier League with a bang. Crystal Palace play Bournemouth, Sunderland, Stoke, Middlesbrough and West Brom in the upcoming 5 weeks upon Zaha’s return, which is a very favourable fixture run. Therefore, at a value of £5.5 and with 1.4 shots to go with 4.3 successful take-ons per game, Zaha could be a handy FPL selection.
Bailly managed to get 1 clean sheet to his name in a 0-0 draw against Togo, thanks to a good defensive performance. He will most likely slot straight back into the Man Utd defence upon his return, boosting United’s clean-sheet potential. Unbeaten since their loss to Chelsea in GW9, Man Utd and FPL managers should relish the fact that Bailly will be back in the line-up. Bailly was strong on the ball, in the air and when defending 1v1 situations throughout the 3 AFCON fixtures. This is something that Man Utd has missed without Bailly in central defense. At £5.3, Bailly would be a good acquisition for FPL managers looking to gain points from defence.
Wilfried Bony received different treatment from his country compared to what he is experiencing at club side Stoke. Bony made two starts and one bench appearance at AFCON managing to get on the scoresheet against D.R Congo. Scoring 1 goal from 2 shots Bony ended the tournament with 50% of his nation’s goals. However, don’t expect this form to carry over to his club upon his return to the Premier League. Although Bony is a good striker and at a value of £6.9, he is reasonably cheap for forward options, Mark Hughes rarely utilises Bony in the first team, opting for Crouch and Diouf instead. Also, with the recent acquisition of Saido Berahino, expect Bony to continue warming the bench for Stoke.
One of the favourites to take out the tournament due to the quality and experience in their side, Senegal performed up to expectation through the group stage (2 wins, 1 draw). However, they faulted at the first knock-out game, a penalty shoot-out loss to Cameroon. Senegal boast 4 Premier League players who have been consistently starting for their clubs. Idrissa Gueye (Everton), Sadio Manè (Liverpool), Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke) and Cheikhou Kouyatè (West Ham) were all integral parts of the Senegalese set-up. The involvement of Manè is what FPL managers are eager to learn about, as he has been an excellent source of FPL points in the 2016/17 season. Also, Kouyatè is one to look out for as he possesses solid FPL potential in the budget midfield range.
Ever since moving to Liverpool from Southampton at the beginning of the season, Manè has been in scintillating form. So far this season, he has scored 9 goals from 2.3 shots per game and has also provided 6 assists from 1.7 key passes per game. This form directly carried over into AFCON with Manè seemingly being unstoppable when in possession of the ball. Over the course of the tournament Manè was the prime attacking threat for Senegal, which the team was built around. Of the 3 games Manè played in, he scored 2 goals from 6 shots and was a constant menace to oppositions in the attacking third of the field, being ranked as one of the best for take-on efficiency among all players. In the quarter-finals match-up against Cameroon, Manè was exceptional, with 1 shot on target, 11 fouls won, 4 crosses into the box and an amazing 14 take-ons. However, the game went to penalties and Manè missed his spot kick, giving Cameroon the victory. FPL managers should consider that this miss may have affected Manè’s confidence. However, it could also do the opposite and give Manè a point to prove upon his return. Even with a tough run of fixtures, facing Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal and Man City in the next 7 weeks, FPL managers should look to get Manè into their squads as soon as possible.
Kouyatè was an invaluable asset to Senegal at AFCON. Playing in multiple roles across the midfield, Kouyatè featured in 3 out of Senegal’s 4 games. He was one of the lynch-pins that aided in securing 3 clean sheets in the tournament by breaking up opposing attacks and constructing play in favour of his side. Similar to his role at West Ham Kouyatè was given the ability to drift up field when necessary, managing 3 shots on target. This season in FPL, Kouyatè has registered 1 assist, which is his only scoring involvement so far. This is a decent drop from the 5 goals and 3 assists he picked up last season, where he also managed a shot frequency of 1 every 66.8 mins from defensive midfield, which is very good. However, now that Payet has left the Hammers, Kouyatè could see a change in roles with him moving further forward, flourishing at the attacking end of the field. As a result, Kouyatè is a player to be considered for FPL due to his price of £5.1, but not a first choice go-to budget midfield option.
Going into AFCON, Algeria had a good chance at going the distance, with the style of play and the star power to back it up. However, Algeria quickly became a big disappointment, having 2 draws and 1 loss to be gone at the conclusion of the group stage. The Leicester City duo of Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani couldn’t prevent Algeria from being knocked-out, even though both put in some very good performances at the international cup.
Mahrez has been in very bad form this season, not being able to continue on from his stellar 2015/16 campaign. Although Mahrez is still Leicester’s highest FPL scoring player, he hasn’t scored since GW13 and has not yet produced a double figure points return for the 8.2% of FPL managers who have selected him. At AFCON however, his form dramatically changed. In the opening game against Zimbabwe, Mahrez scored 2 goals from 6 shots and whipped in 4 successful crosses. Over the 3 fixtures, Mahrez continued to look dangerous in front of goal, having a total of 10 shots at 3.3 per game, much higher than his average 2.2 shots per game for his club. Even against the toughest opposition in Algeria’s group (Senegal), Mahrez managed 5 crosses, 3 shots, 8 take-ons and an assist. This reinforces to FPL managers that Mahrez still has the ability to score points, especially against weaker oppositions. The four times Mahrez has provided FPL points returns of 5+ this season has been against Hull (GW1), Burnley (GW5), Watford (GW12) and Middlesbrough (GW13), all considered weaker opponents for Leicester. Looking at GW29 onwards, Leicester have a kind run of fixtures to end the season, meaning Mahrez could build off his AFCON form and aid in Leicester staying in the Premier league. Nevertheless, at £8.9, Mahrez needs to start scoring goals regularly to warrant a spot in FPL manager’s squads ahead of other midfielders.
Just like his club team-mate Mahrez, Slimani finished AFCON with 2 goals and an assist from the 3 games. Like most good forwards, Slimani’s contributions came in and around the opposition’s penalty area - 7 total shots with 3 on target (2 goals). This was a showcase of why Slimani became Leicester’s record signing this season. Although having limited appearances for the foxes since signing, Slimani has still registered 5 goals and 3 assists to be joint top scorer with Jamie Vardy at the club. AFCON has given Slimani a platform to prove to Claudio Ranieri that the money spent by Leicester on him was warranted. Slimani has picked up a goal or assist in 3 of his last 4 games in all competitions and with Algeria not getting out of the AFCON group stage, this form can continue in the Premier league, granted Slimani gets game time. At 1.8 shots per game this season Slimani has been a goal threat and can become a consistent scorer for Leicester and FPL managers if trusted. With less than 1%TSB, if Slimani continues this small patch of form over a longer period of time, it would be nonsensical for FPL managers not to consider bringing in the £8.2 striker.
A courageous effort was shown at AFCON by Morocco, finishing second in their group, which boasted the likes of DR Congo and Ivory Coast. After losing the opening fixture against a good DR Congo side (1-0), Morocco went on to claim two victories which saw them make it out of the group and into the knock-out playoffs – losing in the quarter-finals. Morocco only has the privilege of two Premier league players in their ranks, Sofiane Boufal (Southampton) and Nordin Amrabat (Watford). Both on the fringe of the national squad, Boufal saw no match-time (due to injury) at the tournament and Amrabat was very limited. However, there is some positives that can be taken back to their respective clubs sides.
Due to a slight ankle injury Amrabat was unable to play any game time at AFCON and is now facing stiff competition from Niang, Success and Janmaat at Wtaford. It is unclear whether Amrabat will jump straight back into Watford’s first team when he returns to league competition. Starting almost every Premier league fixture this season for Watford, Amrabat has had trouble gaining FPL points as his style of play does not necessarily suit FPL point scoring. Amrabat’s wing play has only seen him record 3 assists all season, however, with 1.4 goal scoring chances created per game and 1.3 shots per game, Amrabat has the potential to have a bigger impact. Additionally, Watford’s player of the season so far Etienne Capoue has been the creative force behind all of Watford’s attacks, meaning Amrabat has had a smaller role to play in the side. But, if Capoue gets injured or suspended in the remaining league games, Amrabat could become key to Watford scoring goals.
Always one of the stronger African nations at any international tournament, Ghana yet again found themselves as a contender for the AFCON trophy. However, they weren’t at their blistering best, just scrapping through the group stage with 2 goals for and 1 against from their 2 wins and 1 loss. Premier League players, Andre Ayew (West Ham) and Daniel Amartey (Leicester), both contributed to Ghana’s success. Amartey, playing in a very defensive minded midfield role isn’t anyone’s FPL necessity with a mere 0.2%TSB. However, Andre Ayew has been an integral part of FPL squads in the past, and could be once again after returning from international duty.
Starting all fixtures at AFCON and playing the full 90 minutes in an advanced midfield role is something that should immediately get FPL managers interested in Andre Ayew’s stock. Ayew has scored 2 goals from 7 shots at AFCON so far and looks to have his confidence back in front of goal, which has been missing at West Ham this season. Formerly, Ayew was a constant goal threat. At Swansea in the 2015/16 season, he registered 12 goals and 5 assists, along with 25 bonus points for his hard work and effort on and off the ball. This effort and energy has been evident at AFCON and could very well carry into the Premier League. With Payet no longer a West Ham player, Ayew will have more emphasis put on his play and contribution to the team. However, competition for starting spots with Manuel Lanzini, Sofiane Feghouli, Michail Antonio and recent signing Robert Snodgrass could jumpstart Ayew’s season to the heights it was at Swansea. With a favourable run of fixtures from GW25 onwards, West Ham players could become hot property for FPL managers as many have very underrated values. Ayew could even find himself partnering Andy Carroll up front, should Slaven Bilic opt for a more attacking setup, thus giving more potential to increase his goal tally upon resuming club duty, and at a value of £7.1, is a reasonable midfield selection if he is a nailed on starter in these positions.
By Luke Scali - Twitter (@LS_Potzi)