Chelsea in AFCON limbo as title defining decision will alter Thomas Tuchel’s 2022 plans – Daniel Childs

The African Cup of Nations has been looming over several Premier League clubs in the early months of this season, knowing that in a crucial run of the season they will be losing some of their key players.

For Liverpool it is the elite attacking duo of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, two players who are crucial to Jurgen Klopp’s attacking plans.

For Chelsea, it is goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, who is crucial to Thomas Tuchel’s ability to prevent goals going in at the other end.

But on Tuesday those fears may have been halted with the concept AFCON might not go ahead next month due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A letter from the European Club Association [ECA] sent to FIFA’s deputy secretary-general last week put forward the case of “three fundamental concerns” of European clubs in regards to the release of their players for AFCON next month.

The ECA argues that “every player’s wellbeing is protected”, “that clubs are not forced to be without players for club competition matches”, and that demand that their players return “in a timely fashion, as per the applicable rules”.

As of writing, it appears AFCON will still go ahead as planned, with The Guardian yesterday referring to a statement back in September from The Confederation of African Football saying that “Afcon will be staged in Cameroon on 9 January 2022.”

This has all been brought into sharp focus with the Omicron variant spreading in the UK with a number of Premier League games already being suspended in recent days and concerns more will follow.

Edouard Mendy is expected to miss Chelsea's Premier League games in January due to AFCON
Edouard Mendy is expected to miss Chelsea’s Premier League games in January due to AFCON

AFCON going ahead or not going ahead from a selection point of view for Tuchel would have significant implications for the new year in a run of league games where Chelsea play title rivals Liverpool and Manchester City.

For Klopp there are doubts over both Mane and Salah’s availability for the clash on the 2nd of January at Stamford Bridge, adding Mendy into that too regarding when players need to be released for their nations.

Focusing on Chelsea, Mendy has been a huge player for Tuchel this term, proving to be one of Europe’s best shot-stoppers.

Even with his recent dip in form, the numbers still show how defining he has been in preventing goals that could have blighted the Blues pretty impressive start to the league campaign.

Mendy is not only top in the Premier League for prevented goals but also leading the pack in Europe’s top five leagues in the same metric according to WyScout.

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Although Kepa Arrizabalaga’s form so far this season in irregular outings have proved encouraging, Mendy’s transformative effect cannot be underestimated since his 2020 signing.

A lot of things in football currently feel uncertain again like they were in March 2020, this AFCON call could alter the look of Tuchel’s lineup in a testing period of the season.

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