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Who’s out and in? How AFCON and the Asian Cup will impact your FPL team

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afcon, fpl, premier league, fantasy

Over January and February 2024, both the Asian Cup and African Cup of Nations will see some of Europe’s finest footballers leave club football with the dream of achieving the ultimate continental glory.

Among the contingent of briefly departing stars are Tottenham Hotspur’s Heung-Min Son and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, two forwards having FPL seasons to remember.

We’ve already dived deep into which Premier League side will be most severely impacted by both tournaments in a separate article; you can check that out here.

It’s important to note that every player is certain to miss at least two EPL games, but any matches after that are dependent on their national team’s success.

Son, tottenham, fpl gameweek 17
Son will be on national duty in January.

This means some of the players we’ve selected mightn’t be absent for the entirety of the month, and therefore available for re-selection earlier.

Now, we turn our attention to the Fantasy Premier League universe, analysing the five biggest AFCON and Asian Cup losses and how you can best replace them.

5 key FPL players departing for AFCON and the Asian Cup

Around 50 players are expected to depart the Premier League for their respective international tournaments in January and February. Whilst all of them are useful to their squads in one way or another, when it comes to FPL there are only a handful who will be sorely missed.

We’ll start at the back with Andre Onana (£4.8 I 14.9%) who, despite an inconsistent, error-ridden start to Premier League life remains the fourth most selected FPL goalkeeper at the time of writing (22 December, 2023).

Arriving at Manchester United from Inter Milan, Onana was one of the finest goalkeepers in Europe, fresh from competing against new cross-town rivals, Manchester City, in a Champions League final. He’s looked a shadow of himself since. Yet, somehow, he has six clean sheets, the joint-most in the Premier League at the time of writing.

FPL, AFCON, onana
Manchester United’s Andre Onana has surprisingly kept plenty of clean sheets in the 2023-24 season

Moving away from Manchester United’s goalkeeper, the FPL midfield position is where both the AFCON and Asian Cup’s impacts are glaringly obvious.

At the time of writing, FPL’s two top scorers for the 2023-24 season are Mohamed Salah (£13.2 I 54.1%) and Heung-Min Son (£9.8 I 43.2%) with 130 and 115 points respectively. After lulls in 2022-23, both men have returned to their best, and are critical to just about every single FPL team.

With 11 goals and seven assists, Salah is involved in more Liverpool goals than he isn’t, while Son’s form either as Ange Postecoglou’s striker or in his favoured left-wing role, has earned him praise as one of the competition’s form players.

For any FPL player who owns either or both, they are huge, borderline irreplaceable losses, given not only their incredible outputs but also the consistency in their goal involvements.

Mohamed Salah, AFCON, FPL wildcard, Premier League
Mohamed Salah’s absence will be massive for Liverpool

Son isn’t the only South Korea carving up the Premier League this season. One of the division’s most underrated performers in season 2023-24 is Wolves’ Hwang Hee-Chan (£5.8 I 11%) whose eight goals have him sitting atop the Premier League scoring charts.

Surprisingly his ownership is relatively low given his goalscoring exploits, as well as his relatively cheap price, but FPL players with the South Korean will be ruing the temporary loss of their point of difference.

Another silky winger potentially departing for the Asian Cup is Brighton’s Kaoru Mitoma (£6.5 I 21.2%), who’s been involved in eight goals (three goals, five assists) despite what has been widely regarded as a slow start to the season for the Japanese star.

While all five are massive FPL losses, it is hard to understate just how critical the losses of Salah and Son are, especially when considering one of the Premier League’s better goalscoring wingers, Hwang, is also departing for the Asian Cup.

Another factor to consider when analysing how the Asian Cup and AFCON are going to impact your FPL teams is how these players’ sides function without them.

How do Trent Alexander-Arnold (£8.3 I 17.7%) and Darwin Nunez (£7.5 I 15.0%) fare without Salah? Does Spurs’ form nosedive with Son? What happens to Evan Ferguson (£6.0 I 7.0%) and Joao Pedro (£5.4 I 10.4%) without Mitoma feeding them? And how does United’s backline function without its primary shot-stopper?

trent alexander-arnold, fpl
How badly will Salah’s absence hurt Trent Alexander-Arnold’s form?

Considering all things, it will be important not to overanalyse the FPL situation throughout AFCON and the Asian Cup, remembering that a large portion of others are in the same boat. Figuring out the stop-gap solution that’s perfect for your team’s context and budget, while remembering these departing players are likely returning in February, is the best way forward.

Who can come in to replace them?

With that being said, it would be remiss to write this article without diving into some replacements for the FPL stars absent at both AFCON and the Asian Cup.

In net, Andre Onana’s price leaves a bit of wriggle room for maneuvering. Fulham’s Bernd Leno (£4.8 I 17.4%) is the same price as the Cameroonian and has a favourable run of fixtures during the tournament windows: Chelsea, Everton, Burnley, and Bournemouth.

On top of this favourable run, the German shot-stopper is the top-scoring goalkeeper (69 points) at the time of writing, further cementing his credentials as an ideal Onana replacement. An additional option is Everton’s Jordan Pickford (£4.4 I 6.2%), though his selection is more of a gamble given his side play Aston Villa, Spurs, and Manchester City during the window.

When it comes to replacing Son and Salah, their high prices leave plenty of wiggle room. One avenue which could be explored is the pair’s direct club replacements, such as Richarlison (£6.7 I 3.1%) and Diogo Jota (£7.7 I 1.0%).

Richarlison has returned to some scoring form recently, while Jota’s fitness, or starting place, isn’t guaranteed. Steering away from the Portuguese winger is advised, but a gamble on Richarlison could prove a valuable short-term point of difference.

Jordan Pickford, Everton
Everton’s Jordan Pickford might be the perfect Andre Onana replacement

His credentials are boosted by James Maddison’s (£7.8 I 8.3%) return sometime in January. Prior to his injury, the Englishman was arguably the Premier League’s best midfielder. He’ll be chomping at the bit to return to play, and his delightful playmaking will need to benefit someone if it isn’t Son – why can’t it be Richarlison (£6.7 I 3.1%)?

Maddison himself is someone to monitor during this window. So too are the English trio, Anthony Gordon (£6.2 I 23.6%), Jarrod Bowen (£7.8 I 22.1%), and Cole Palmer (£5.6 I 23.8%). All three are having delightful seasons in their own right, and the prices of both Gordon and Palmer make them seamless replacements for Hwang, but can also free up budget to strengthen elsewhere if they’re brought in for Salah, Son, or Mitoma.

However, considering all three are owned by more than one-fifth of FPL players, better, less-known options also exist. Continuing down the Spurs line of thinking, Dejan Kulusevski (£7.2 I 4.8%) is beginning to find some much-needed end product and is owned by only a handful of players.

James Maddison, FPL, wildcard
James Maddison’s timely return could be FPL manager’s saving grace come January

Similarly, Martin Odegaard (£8.4 I 14.6%) and Kai Havertz (£7.1 I 1.7%) of Arsenal have come into their own as the season progresses. Havertz in particular is a true point of difference, while Odegaard is a selection as safe as houses.

Hwang’s teammate Pedro Neto (£5.6 I 1.3%) edges closer to a return and with seven assists in a blistering start to the season he could not only be an ideal replacement for the missing stars in the short-term but also someone who sticks in your team for the remainder of the season.

Whether you opt for like-for-like replacements or choose to use newly acquired funds to strengthen elsewhere on the pitch, these solutions should only be viewed as short-term. Should they eventuate into long-term answers, great, but the idea behind any changes should be to push through both tournaments with minimal impact.

Kyle Robbins
Kyle Robbins
Kyle is a senior sports writer and producer at Only Sports who lives and breathes sport, with a particular burning passion for everything soccer, rugby league, and cricket. You’ll most commonly find him getting overly hopeful about the Bulldogs and Chelsea’s prospects. Find Kyle on LinkedIn.

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