The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) kicks off this weekend and there will be plenty of talent on show at the competition. The action will commence this Sunday, January 6, and will feature some talent-stacked sides boasting a raft of big names from Europe’s top leagues.
Reigning champions Algeria have one of the most exciting squads at the tournament and will be a favourite to retain their title this year with Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez as their talisman.
They are likely to be challenged by Senegal, who also boast a raft of outstanding players, including Liverpool’s Sadio Mane, Edouard Mendy and Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly.
In anticipation of the tournament, we’ve ranked what we believe are the 15 most talented players heading to the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.
1. Mohammed Salah – Liverpool and Egypt
Few would argue that Salah is not currently the best player on the planet right now.
He simply cannot stop scoring goals.
Since joining Liverpool in 2017, Salah has broken countless records in the Premier League and chalked his 16th goal of the season last weekend against Chelsea to become one of only a handful of players to score 150 goals in the top flight.
His lightning pace and exquisite finishing will undoubtedly be missed by Liverpool next month, but we are expecting to see him tear it up when he pulls on the Egypt shirt in this year’s AFCON.
2. Sadio Mane – Liverpool and Senegal
Unfortunately for Mane, his teammate Mohammed Salah just surpasses him as the best player at this year’s tournament.
But Mane is undoubtedly one of the most talented forwards in the world and is in fine form coming into the competition, having already netted eight goals in the Premier League this season.
While Mane will be looking to lead Senegal to the title this year, he could also pip Salah to stake a claim for the Golden Boot award after scoring three times in the 2019 tournament.
3. Riyad Mahrez – Manchester City and Algeria
After leading Algeria to glory at the 2019 tournament, Mahrez will once again be looking to have an impact for his country as he is set to make his fourth AFCON appearance this January.
After moving from Leicester to Manchester City in 2018, Mahrez has undoubtedly grown into one of the best wingers in world football under Pep Guardiola’s guidance, amassing 72 goals and 50 assists across 242 Premier League appearances.
4. Edouard Mendy – Chelsea and Senegal
It’s fair to say Mendy is currently one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League, having amassed eight clean sheets already this season and could perhaps go on to win the Golden Glove award during this year’s tournament.
Mendy has pulled off some sublime saves for Chelsea this season, including an excellent diving stop against compatriot Mane in Chelsea’s 2-2 draw against Liverpool last week.
5. Kalidou Koulibaly – Napoli and Senegal
With Mendy in goal and Koulibaly locking things down in defence, there’s no doubt it will be hard for teams to get the ball around Senegal at this year’s tournament.
The Napoli defender is one of the best centre-backs currently playing in Europe and has notched 13 goals across 302 games for the Azzurri. His link-up with Mendy this January will be vital to helping Senegal reach the final once again.
6. Sebastien Haller – Ajax and Ivory Coast
Haller currently tops the Champions League goal scorers rankings after netting 10 goals in only six matches for Ajax.
Adding to that, the Ivorian has also scored 12 goals in 17 games in the Eredivisie.
Haller will be a vital asset to the Ivory Coast this January and could easily be a contender for the golden boot award if he can keep up his goalscoring rhythm.
7. Kelechi Iheanacho – Leicester and Nigeria
After firing Leicester City through to the final of the FA Cup last season with a goal against Southampton, Iheanacho became a cult hero for the Foxes, who went on to win their first-ever FA Cup trophy.
Iheanacho has been a superb signing for Leicester since he joined the club from Manchester City in 2017, scoring 69 goals in 223 appearances across all competitions.
8. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – Arsenal and Gabon
While Arsenal striker Aubameyang has had a tough time of late, butting heads with manager Mikel Arteta, a break away from his club at the AFCON might be just what he needs to get back to scoring ways.
And we’re backing him to put on a show this month to prove to Arteta that he still has the potential to be one of the Premier League’s most prolific strikers.
9. Naby Keita – Liverpool and Guinea
Keita is the first of several Liverpool players who have been called up to their international sides for the tournament.
Keita will join up with notable teammates Saidou Sow (AS St-Etienne) and Amadou Diawara (AS Roma) but will undoubtedly be the maestro in midfield for this Guinea side.
10. Franck Kessie – AC Milan and Ivory Coast
Football Fancast are reporting that Tottenham Hotspur are looking to make a swoop for AC Milan midfielder Kessie, with Antonio Conte set to use the AFCON to scope out the midfielder’s talents.
And we’re expecting big things from Kessie this January if his performances in a Milan shirt are anything to go by.
Since joining the Rossoneri in 2017, this box-to-box midfielder has already played 205 games for the club and has scored 35 goals. Spurs fans will certainly want to keep an eye on him during the tournament.
11. Wilfred Ndidi – Leicester and Nigeria
Known for his outstanding defensive capabilities, Ndidi will be an essential cog in Nigeria’s midfield this January.
He is currently one of the best defensive midfielders in the Premier League and consistently holds his own against some of the league’s most dangerous attackers.
Often compared with the likes of Rodri and Fabinho, Ndidi does have a secret weapon up his sleeve and has devastated teams in the past with his exceptional long-shot capabilities.
12. Said Benrahma – West Ham and Algeria
West Ham midfielder Benrahma has been an influential member of David Moyes’ side this season.
The 26-year-old has made an appearance in every Premier League and Europa League match this season, scoring eight times across both competitions.
He’ll link up with Mahrez in the Algeria squad this month, and with their creativity combined, Algeria will be a tough team to defend against.
13. Achraf Hakimi – Paris Saint-Germain and Morocco
After joining Paris-Saint Germain from Inter Milan at the start of the season, Hakimi has immediately impressed at his new club.
Known for his outstanding ability to whip balls into the box, the 23-year-old also has a knack for scoring goals, having amassed seven goals in Seria A last season.
And he has continued that to find the back of the net with PSG, scoring three goals in 18 Ligue 1 appearances.
14. Yves Bissouma – Brighton and Mali
After a three-year absence, Brighton midfielder Bissouma will once again link up with the Malian national side after he reportedly fell out with the coach in 2015.
It would have been an odd decision to omit the Brighton midfielder who has seriously impressed for Graham Potter’s side this year.
15. Romain Saiss – Morocco and Wolverhampton
Wolverhampton Wanderers have been quietly working their way up the Premier League table to become one of the hardest teams to play against this year.
This is partly due to their excellent form at the back, headed up by defensive general Saiss.
Saiss has led Wolves to eight clean sheets this season and will be a leader at the back for Morocco during this year’s AFCON.