Three-quarters of English Premier League clubs had at least two or more footballers representing African countries in their first-team squads during the 2020-21 season. The only teams who didn't have a senior player from that continent were Burnley, Leeds United and Sheffield United.
Almost a third of clubs had four Africans on senior contracts, so they continue to make their presence felt in the EPL. After most sides had played 31 games and ahead of the run-in, only Manchester City’s Brazilian goalie Ederson has kept more clean sheets than Chelsea and Senegal stopper Edouard Mendy in the division.
He was bought from French Ligue 1 outfit Rennes, the same source as goalkeeping great Petr Cech, to help the Stamford Bridge side shut the opposition out more often. Mendy has certainly done that, first for Frank Lampard and now for current Blues boss Thomas Tuchel, and is a commanding presence organizing the Chelsea defense.
Speaking of defenders, Crystal Palace have had no option with their fitness problems at the back throughout the campaign but to press Mendy’s compatriot Cheikhou Kouyate into service at center-half. That has kept him very busy.
Going into the Eagles’ last seven EPL games, Kouyate has made 103 clearances, won 72 aerial duels and blocked 21 shots from opposition players. He has been in thick of it, then, and the same can be said of West Bromwich Albion defender Semi Ajayi.
The Nigeria international has blocked more attempts than his Senegalese counterpart, but made fewer clearances for Sam Allardyce’s side as they battle to avoid relegation. Both can play in the heart of defense or the holding role in front.
Midfield generals but not exactly pass-masters
Moving into midfield, it’s clear, looking at the official Premier League stats, that African players excel at the combative side of things. Tackling and interception stats show Yves Bissouma of Brighton & Hove Albion as taking very few chances.
Born in the Ivory Coast, but raised in and representing neighbouring Mali, Bissouma has earned a deserved reputation as a tough tackler, putting in the third-highest (82) to date. On top of that, he is also in the top 15 EPL players for interceptions, highlighting great awareness and anticipation of what the opposition is doing when trying to pass through midfield.
Leicester City and Nigerian holding player Wilfred Ndidi also rates highly for those stats. He’s in and around the top ten for both tackles and intercepting, proving how adept he is at breaking up play. Ndidi was signed by the Foxes to be the successor to N’GoloKante when he moved to Chelsea, and the numbers clearly show him embracing that role as destroyer.
Where these African midfielders aren’t so great is in the passing department. There is nobody in the top 40 representing a country from the continent for this stat. Bissouma is best of the African contingent with almost 1,400 passes going into the Seagulls’ run-in.
A couple of Fulham players in Cameroon midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Nigeria wing-back Ola Aina are next best, ahead of Kouayte, Mo Salah of Liverpool and Ndidi. The fact that the most prolific African passers in the EPL play for teams battling relegation perhaps says something about the opportunities being rarer at top clubs.
Salah leading attacking talents again
Poor crossing stats reflect tactical changes in the way soccer sides set themselves up. When it comes to the most important data of shots, goals and assists, however, some of the biggest teams in England feature African players.
Thanks to 19 EPL goals and counting from Egypt star Salah, Liverpool remain in the hunt for Champions League football, despite key injuries at the back ruining their title defense. As of April 16, the Reds have 1.72 odds in the top-four finish with Jurgen Klopp finally able to name a settled rearguard.
Salah has won the EPL Golden Boot twice before, including when sharing the accolade with Anfield teammate and Senegal international forward Sadio Mane. Both are among the top ten for shots in the division this season.
Mane is the leading maker of assists among African players too, but has just five. Algeria’s Riyad Mahrez, in and out of the Man City team; Wilfired Zaha of Palace and Ivory Coast; Gabon forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at Arsenal; and Kelechi Iheanacho of Leicester and Nigeria could all reach double figures for goals before the end of the season.
That would reflect well on African footballers playing in the EPL, who are doing well in a number of areas on the field.
This article was most recently revised and updated 8 months ago