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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 16 hours ago
Read
Jan 13, 2012

United Nations

The Premier League's African Nations Cup contingent has now jetted off to training camps ahead of the finals in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

Luckily for many fantasy managers there are few top fantasy players who will be at the tournament, which begins on January 21 and runs through to February 12 when the final is played in Libreville, Gabon.

There are five rounds of Premier league games to be played in this time, while a break for the Fifth Round of the FA Cup on the weekend of February 19 provides the necessary extra buffer for those returning from Africa. Any player who plays for a nation which reaches the semi-finals will miss almost a third of the remainder of the season, as there is a third-place play-off on the same weekend as the final.

Only 11 players will head back to Africa this month, this compares to 31 who were named in squads for the 2010 finals in Angola. The failure of Cameroon, Nigeria, South Africa and Togo to make the finals means many clubs have been able to breathe a sigh of relief. With another African continental championship to come in 2013 as it is moved so as not to clash with European Championship or World Cup years, it is unlikely clubs will be so lucky in 12 months' time.

The stars headed for the tournament are: Marouane Chamakh, Gervinho (Arsenal), Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou (Chelsea), Kolo and Yaya Toure (Man City), Demba Ba and Cheick Tiote (Newcastle), Armand Traore and Adel Taarrabt (QPR), Mohamed Diame (Wigan).

A few names stand out from that short list, but none more so than Demba Ba. The Newcastle United striker became hot property in the first half of the season, notching 114 points to be ranked as the third highest scoring striker, and the sixth best overall.

It is surprising that a third of managers have still opted to bring in the Senegal international despite the fact he is unlikely to play a Premier League game until Gameweek 26. Ba, who has scored two hat-tricks in a total of 15 Premier League goals this term, cannot earn a single point for an age in fantasy teams. It seems certain there will be some panic selling to come.

So, who to bring in if you want to plug a Ba sized hole for over a month? Many fantasy managers have been looking to Yakubu, the rejuvenated Blackburn Rovers striker who seems to be single-handedly trying to keep the club in the Premier League.

Yakubu, who coincidentally would probably have been at the African Nations Cup himself had Nigeria qualified, has 12 Premier League goals to his name and is ranked as the sixth best striker on 93 points.

Striker ownership is heavily weighted towards six players, all of which are owned by at least 22% of managers with Robin van Persie overwhelmingly the most popular in two-thirds of squads. Yakubu is the fourth most popular, in 23.9% of teams. Sergio Aguero, Wayne Rooney and Emmanuel Adebayor are the other strikers in demand this month. After that batch of players the next most popular player is Daniel Sturridge on 8.8%

Opting to draft in Yakubu does mean you are relying on a player in a desperate relegation dogfight to continue producing the goods. Rovers have three home games in the next month, against Fulham, Newcastle United and Queens Park Rangers which certain present the possibility of goals. They also travel to Everton and Arsenal. At the very least, the fixtures are favourable for Yakubu.

If you're looking for a player who is likely to play, has a good chance of being among the goals and is also not owned by many managers then Thierry Henry must be worth a gamble. Granted, the striker's comeback cameo was against Leeds United, but his goal was vintage Henry and he will still find space in the Premier League.

Arsenal will play two home games before Henry is due to head back to New York, against Manchester United and Blackburn, and they also travel to Swansea City, Bolton Wanderers and Sunderland. Next up is Spurs at home in Gameweek 26, and it would be no real surprise should the Gunners negotiate at least a short extension should he do well.

Priced at an enticing £6.2 million, Henry has so far only been snapped up by 4.7% of teams, meaning you should be able to steal ground on plenty of rivals should the former France international perform well.

And with Gervinho and Chamakh away, Henry is certain of playing time.

Of the other players to leave for Africa, few will bemoan the departure of Chamakh, Kalou, Tiote, Taarabt, Traore or Diame in fantasy terms. Gervinho is not a popular signing though he was ranked 15th in strikers in the first half of the season while Drogba has disappointed down in 35th.

But the Toure brothers at Man City obviously have performed well. Kolo forced his way back into the team, starting four of the last seven matches and keeping three clean sheets, while Yaya was ranked as the ninth best midfielder.

Managers are clearly more aware of Yaya's trip to Africa, as he is in only 7.8% of teams. And, just like Henry, you could dip your toe in with another visiting MLS star, perhaps opting for Everton's Landon Donovan.

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