Whenever the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) comes around, it is usually met with a lot of skepticism in France. This is because a large number of African players ply their trade in the French league, causing a depletion of French clubs’ manpower for the duration of AFCON.
AFCON greatly affects French Ligue 1 sides
Just like in any league, Ligue 1 teams are affected differently by the number of players called up for AFCON by their countries. Clubs battling to gain a foothold in the league standings and others are looking to mount a title challenge have different needs for their player.
With this in mind, here is a list of five Ligue 1 clubs that may suffer for the duration of AFCON due to the loss of their key players
A number of Angers regulars have been called up to represent their respective national teams in next month’s AFCON. Morocco have invited Sofiane Boufal and Azzedine Ounahi, while Cameroon have called up Stephane Bahoken and Enzo Ebosse. The quartet have made 65 appearances between them this season with nine goals and five assists. All four have been regulars for Angers this season.
Angers have games against struggling Saint-Etienne, FC Lorient, Troyes and Olympique Marseille lined up for the duration of AFCON. They will hope the absence of the AFCON-bound quartet in these games will not affect them too much.
Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain have had quite an easy ride in the league this season as they look to regain the league title they relinquished to Lille last time round. The league leaders are currently 13 points clear of second-placed OGC Nice with half of the season concluded.
Three players from Mauricio Pochettino‘s side have been called up for AFCON by their various countries, including Morocco’s Achraf Hakimi, and Senegal’s Idrissa Gueye, and Abdou Diallo. Between the trio, they have made 58 appearances this season, recording seven goals and four assists along the way.
With such a healthy buffer in Ligue 1, PSG will not be too bothered by losing three of their first-team stars for just over a month. They will face Olympique Lyonnais, Stade Brest, Reims and champions Lille while AFCON is on.
Stade Rennais is one team the timing of AFCON will bother this year. The French side are high up in fourth place in Ligue 1 after an impressive start to the season, only two points behind second-placed OGC Nice.
Three of their stars have been called up to represent their respective countries at AFCON. Morocco’s Nayef Aguerd, Mali’s Hamari Traore, Ghana’s Kamaldeen Sulemana, and Senegal’s Alfred Gomis have been invited to the tournament.
Rennes will face RC Lens, Bordeaux, Clermont Foot, and Stade Brest in their games that will take place alongside AFCON between January and February.
Despite being one of the biggest sides in French football, Olympique Lyonnais have really struggled in Ligue 1 this season. They are currently in 13th place with only 24 points after 18 matches and are only eight points above the relegation zone.
To add insult to injury, two of their top strikers have been summoned by their respective national teams for AFCON. Algerian striker Islam Slimani and Cameroon’s Karl Toko-Ekambi have made 16 and 23 appearances respectively, scoring four and 11 goals each.
The French side will be left with Moussa Dembele as their only out-and-out striker for the duration of AFCON. In this period, they will face leaders Paris Saint-Germain, Troyes, Saint-Etienne and AS Monaco in an important run of fixtures that may define their season.
For a club as neck-deep in crisis as Saint-Etienne, AFCON could not have come at a worse time. Despite being one of the biggest teams in the history of Ligue 1, they currently find themselves at the bottom of the pile halfway through the campaign.
Saint-Etienne have won only two games all season and are five points from safety in the league. The quartet of Ryad Boudebouz, Wahbi Khazri, Denis Bouanga, and Saidou Sow will be away on international duty at AFCON with Algeria, Tunisia, Gabon, and Guinea respectively. Between them, the quartet have made 63 appearances this season, with 12 goals and three assists to show for their efforts.
Saint-Etienne face an important stretch of matches against Angers, Lens, Olympique Lyonnais and Montpellier, and will be without their captain Khazri and three other influential players due to AFCON.