Another weekend of Premier League action awaits, and another clutch of African stars prepare to write their own narratives in what promises to be a stunning weekend of action.
North London Cup
The heart of discussion surrounding this weekend’s activity is likely to focus on its first and most emotionally-charged clash. The North London Cup between Arsenal and their glorious neighbours from Tottenham has a habit of throwing up some classic encounters. Expect fear and loathing, passion and desire.
This year, as has often been the case in recent times, the match contains a vibrant streak of African talent—many of whom are likely to be among the game’s chief protagonists. Emmanuel Adebayor was preferred to Jermain Defoe in Tottenham’s recent defeat to City. Whilst the English poacher did bag a hat-trick against Maribor last week, Adebayor’s more physical approach and greater presence could be preferred to Defoe’s finishing finesse.
A French international with African roots is also likely to be a key figure. Arsenal right back Bacary Sagna once hoped to play for Senegal, the land of his forefathers, but instead has forged a respectable career for himself with the French national team. He is rarely scrutinised, for Arsenal or France, as much as he will be this Saturday when he is charged with silencing Spurs left winger Gareth Bale.
Newcastle United vs. Swansea City
Swansea travel to the North East this weekend to take on a Newcastle side who have struggled to spark in their latest fixtures. One player whose morale won’t have dipped through the Magpies’ recent toil is Shola Ameobi, who has found himself making headlines in recent weeks. At the ripe old age of 31, Ameobi finally made his international debut, appearing not for England—the nation he represented so impressively at U21 level—but Nigeria.
Ameobi impressed against Venezuela in Miami on Wednesday, a match that the Super Eagles won 3-1. He will now be looking ahead to the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa in January and February. Whilst this news will come as a blow to Toon boss Alan Pardew, he can find some solace in the fact that Senegal failed to qualify, meaning his other two key strikers—Demba Ba and Papiss Cissé—will be sticking around.
All three will hope to flourish against the Swans at the weekend, whilst Cheik Tioté’s return from suspension can’t come soon enough for the Magpies. The Ivorian midfield general is likely to slip right back into the starting eleven against Swansea, and could well be crucial to ending Newcastle’s mid-table malaise.
Norwich City vs. Manchester United
Sébastien Bassong has been one of the Prem’s most impressive defenders this term, as well as one of Africa’s finest performers. Whilst the Cameroon international has flourished in Norwich yellow against many of the league’s more established teams, it doesn’t get much tougher than Manchester United—who travel to East Anglia this weekend.
Canaries fans will be under no illusions: A typically reliable performance from Bassong is a must for Chrissy Hughton’s men to stand any chance of a result against United’s firepower. Also keep an eye out for Norwegian-Ghanaian midfielder Alex Tettey who has been another key influence in Norwich’s impressive run of late.
West Bromwich Albion vs. Chelsea
Finally, one of my favourite narratives this season has been West Bromwich Albion. Not only have the Throstles impressed all they have encountered, climbing to an impressive fifth place with a more-than-competent series of performances, they have also done it on the back of two talented African stars. With Youssouf Mulumbu enforcing the midfield and Peter Odemwingie—the greatest Soviet-born Nigerian striker in history—terrorising opposition defences, the Albion will be looking to cause a few problems for Chelsea as Roberto Di Matteo returns to the Hawthorns this weekend.