With his Wildcard now played, both managers only retain a Free Hit to gain an advantage and, in a title race so tight, how and when they use it could determine who sits on the throne come season's end. With thirty-five transfers made since the season went on hiatus, and no less than two transfers a week since the restart, the Butcher looks nervous. He's scrabbling around to find a solution, desperate to put the pieces of the jigsaw together and see out the next five weeks. In contrast, the King is Mr. No Hits, a measure of composure and experience, closing the gap week on week and making it feel almost inevitable he will become the first man to retain the title. Experience of a run-in is what gave Ferguson the edge over Keegan in '96. It looks like being the reason, 24 years later, the King goes back-to-back.
Of course, a lot can happen in the last five gameweeks. Players can get injured and suspended. Teams who were once so reliable can switch off, with titles won and safety assured, causing previously-dependable assets to become liabilities. The intensity of the schedule can lead to captains making one-point cameos, can lead to big-money players being left on the bench, and can lead to sloppiness in defence, causing clean sheets to become a scant resource. One captaincy decision can turn the whole situation on its head. It's that close, the margins are that tight, the pressure is that great.
The King is not having it all his own way, however. In the Gentlemen's Trophy, he enters the second leg of his semi-final eleven points adrift, two defender goals or three returns from glory. His gameweek score of 72 would have given him a very comfortable lead over either team in the other semi-final, but against Lord Geord, the highest-scoring team in the League of Gentlemen since his Gameweek 27 Wildcard, 72 points just isn't enough. An 83-point final score gave the Lords the highest gameweek total for the second week running, even with the disappointment of a six-point Bench Boost. In the other semi-final, it was a disaster for Deadly Daz, who saw captain Kevin de Bruyne make only a brief, one-point cameo. Had he captained Bruno, he would enter the second leg with a six-point lead. Instead, he starts from eight points behind. To overcome the Butcher, he simply must get his captaincy correct this week. If the Butcher makes the wrong decision, however, he could see Gameweek 34 as the week his dreams of a double were dismantled.
Semi-Final, Leg One results:
Deadly Daz 49 - 57 Big Steve
Lord Geord 83 - 72 King Ding
Elsewhere in the League of Gentlemen, we saw one of the most volatile weeks of the year for changing league position. Let's look in detail at how fortunes changed in Gameweek 33.
Ahead of Who Horner is Iceman Newton, who saw his lead over the lower reaches cut by seven points this week. Mane, Vardy and Tarkowski were his star men, with van Dijk's seven points supporting their double-figure hauls. It seems inevitable Madelaine Milan will fall over the final five weeks, with only ten players available and the Iceman nowhere to be seen. With a stroke of luck, however, he could find himself overtaking The Ox, just two points ahead in twelfth. A season which once promised so much has faded to abject disappointment for Oxsmorons, who failed to beat the FPL average score of 50 despite having five players produce returns. He appears to be the gatekeeper for the bottom half, with eleventh-placed Private Parvesh 64 points ahead and seemingly out of reach. His captaincy of Vardy was a masterstroke, with the Leicester line-leader securing 26 points. Sadly for Parvesh, only three other players secured returns, meaning a drop back into Lower Mid-Table. With five weeks remaining, his ambition has to be to make up the three points he is behind the Chasing Pack.
All Star Vogt will only be looking upwards now and, although he finished the gameweek with the same points total as the Masterchef, he moves four points closer by virtue of Hugh G. Rection taking a transfer penalty. Following his flouncing off like Sol Campbell at half-time two weeks ago, Vogt returned with two free transfers and took the surprising move to sell Alexander-Arnold. It did not work out, with the Liverpool man outscoring new signing Wan-Bissaka by five points. His other new signing, Pulisic, did manage to outscore the abandoned McGinn by the same total, and the question now is whether the Masterchef's retention of Alexander-Arnold will prove critical in this personal duel. Masterchef's selection of Almiron continued to pay off, with the Paraguayan playmaker securing his third return in four games since the restart. Both men used their thirty-point captaincy of Bruno to close the gap on Deadly Daz, who watched in horror as his captain, Kevin de Bruyne, made only a one-point cameo. At a stage in the season where captaincy choices can be the difference between failure and success, selecting de Bruyne over Bruno cost the Dazzlers a huge fourteen points and saw them lose their Gentlemen's Trophy semi-final, first leg. Even more brutally, he saw himself fall out of the Title Contenders for the first time in several weeks, replaced by his Bruno-captaining older brother. Both Lord Geord and the Butcher will be wary ahead of Gameweek 34, however; Deadly Daz has proven his team comes alive in the second leg, and with both a Bench Boost available and the Luck of the Lawes on their side, the Dazzlers will enter the new week ready to reclaim their position and secure a cup final spot.
For the Juggernauts, however, the early Wildcard has proven disastrous. Playing their chip in the same week as the Lords, they have seen a 113-point lead slashed to just eleven points in seven weeks, including a trouncing off the Lords in the Gentlemen's Trophy. Those seven weeks have also seen the gap to the top increase from 98 points to 138, with this week seeing them also slip to lower in the Overall Rankings than when they played their Wildcard. The pressure is on for Jockin' Jeeves now, with Juggernauts fans hoping the end of his woodland adventures and return to his spiritual home of Penrith West will lead to a change in fortunes. Still only 10k off his highest ever finish and within 14 points of Hitman Hodgson despite a 53-point gameweek, Jockin' Jeeves will be looking to finish the season strongly.
The Hitman will feel confident in his ability to hold off the two-time champion and finish his debut League of Gentlemen season in the bronze medal position. A final gameweek score of 63 points moved him ten points further clear of Jockin' Jeeves, despite only four players securing returns. Mane and captain Bruno were the heroes, bringing in 41 points between them, though the fatigue of Saint-Maximin, the underperformance of Ayew and Zinchenko and the continued non-appearance of Williams leaves the Hitman vulnerable to being pipped at the last. Tipped as the dark horse to succeed in pre-season, the Hitman has lived up to those expectations and, whatever happens in the next five weeks, looks set to secure his highest-ever Overall Ranking and will surely be a strong contender next season.
In the silver medal position, with his eyes firmly on the gold, remains King Ding. With a 117-point cushion over third, he only needs to focus on catching the Butcher; a task that became ever more possible this week, following his outscoring the leader by fifteen points. The 26 points scored by his A-Team defenders - Alexander-Arnold, Aurier and Azpilicueta - provided the platform for attackers Rashford and captain Bruno to secure a further 36. The gap to the top, once 119 points, is now down to just seven - one defender's goal and a bonus point. With King Ding having made fewer transfers, should he finish level with the Butcher, he will take the title. In a title race this close, it could all come down to that.
That concludes one of the most dramatic weeks in League of Gentlemen history, which saw King Ding slash the lead at the top, which saw Lord Geord take the advantage in his semi-final with the highest score in the division for the second successive week, and which saw Big Steve clinging on to slender leads in two competitions. With the semi-finals of the Gentlemen's Trophy concluded and the title race intensifying, Gameweek 34 promises to up the ante even further. May all your transfers be successes, may all your arrows be green and, as always, may the FPL Gods forever be in your favour.