Unearth Those Fantasy ‘Diamonds’

Opportunity knocks for ‘fringe’ players as AFCON takes centre-stage

The 2017 Africa Cup of Nations gets under way on the 14th January in Gabon and a number of English Premier League clubs are likely to be hit hard.

Fantasy football managers should treat the tournament as a challenge since club managers will have to make the best possible use of the squads at their disposal. New ‘diamonds’ may be unearthed, while other players might experience a severe downturn in their fantasy points output.

Which Premier League players will be away on AFCON 2017 duty and when will they depart?

Club managers will be hoping that the AFCON federations show a bit of flexibility, so that players will be available for the GW20 fixtures scheduled to take place between the 2nd and 4th January, before heading off to the tournament.

Everton’s Yannick Bolasie will miss the tournament, having been ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, while Liverpool’s Joel Matip has indicated that he will not join the Cameroon contingent, preferring instead to remain on Merseyside.

Crystal Palace fans will be worried over continued speculation that suggests Wilfried Zaha will turn his back on a potential England call up by opting to play for the Ivory Coast but the situation should become clearer over the next few days, as the provisional squads are announced.

Here’s a list of each Premier League club, detailing which players are expected to depart for AFCON 2017 duty.
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Nigeria’s failure to make the finals was welcome news for league-leaders Chelsea, since it means that both John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses will be available for Antonio Conte.

Which Premier League players should fantasy managers keep an eye on while the AFCON is on?

While the Africa Cup of Nations gives a chance for a number of players to put themselves in the shop window, opportunity will also knock for a number of Premier League players that have been on the outskirts of their respective teams. We’ve pinpointed 5 players that deserve closer scrutiny, who may either benefit or be adversely affected by the impending departures that will take place in early January.

Ahmed Musa

Champions’ Leicester City are one of the sides worst affected by the AFCON exodus. PFA Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez will be joined in Gabon by Islam Slimani, Daniel Amartey, Jeffrey Schlupp and possibly Yohan Benalouane as well.

Fantasy Football Portal -Riyad Mahrez

This could open the door for Ahmed Musa to get a sustained run in the team. The Nigerian forward has just 2 goals to show for his efforts this season, having started only 5 league games but it’s worth noting that he scored 13 times, while chipping in with 5 assists for CSKA Moscow in the Russian Premier League last season.

Shinji Okazaki will also be hoping to see more game time, having been such a key cog in the Foxes’ title winning season.

Jay Rodriguez

Jay Rodriguez scored twice for Southampton at the weekend, as they defeated South Coast rivals Bournemouth 3-1, providing manager Claude Puel with the perfect tonic, following news that striker Charlie Austin would be out for the foreseeable future.

Jay-Rod has been categorized as a midfielder in many game formats but with Sofiane Boufal departing to join up with Morocco, the Saints are very short of numbers up front.

However, Puel may be reluctant to ‘over-play’ Rodriguez, following his own injury problems and Southampton have a hectic January schedule to negotiate, which includes a two-legged EFL Cup semi-final with Liverpool.

Jordan Pickford

Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford collected his second clean sheet of the season, in the Black Cats’ 1-0 victory over Watford at the weekend and according to WhoScored, ranks second best for the number of saves made by Premier League goalkeepers this season.

Pickford, however, will have a new centre-back pairing in front of him, when Senegal’s Papy Djilobodji and the Ivory Coast’s Lamine Kone head off to Gabon.

It’s likely to be a pivotal month for Sunderland, as they attempt to drag themselves out of the relegation zone, so it is sure to provide a huge test for the young goalkeeper.

Manuel Lanzini

West Ham United fans are becoming a little frustrated by the number of games minutes Slaven Bilić has afforded Manuel Lanzini of late, with the Argentinian playmaker getting the early ‘hook’ on more than once occasion.

However, the Croat is unlikely to have too many options coming off the bench, with his squad stretched to the limits by the likely departures of Andre Ayew, Sofiane Feghhouli and Cheikhou Kouyate and the news that Diafra Sakho has now been ruled out for around 8 weeks.

If Lanzini can gel with Dimitri Payet and Andy Carrol, the Hammers should be able to ease clear of the relegation zone.

Chris Brunt

Anybody who is serious about his or her fantasy football, whether playing in the Official FPL game or in daily fantasy football slates, cannot have failed to notice West Bromwich Albion’s ‘out of position‘ Chris Brunt.

The Northern Ireland international has been deployed in a right-sided midfield role and he remains a real set-piece threat with his wicked deliveries for an Albion side that is not only punching above its weight in terms of league position but is also the tallest team in the division.

However, it’s worth keeping a close eye on the situation at the Hawthorns. Even though Brendan Galloway has turned down the chance to represent Zimbabwe, it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise in the world to see Allan Nyom joining up with the Cameroon party. He’s one of a number of players that have reportedly pulled out of the Cameroon squad but in-fighting between the players and the African football federations is a common theme, when these major tournaments come around, so the former Watford defender may yet head off to Gabon.

If he does, Brunt may will revert to a left-back role, which could affect his attacking potential to some extent.

AFCON 2017 promises to be a real spectacle, this is Africa after all but if you can unearth a ‘diamond’ or two back on home soil, you might just tip one of those fantasy football contests in your favour!