After a dominant GW 35, King Ding looked secure on the League of Gentlemen throne. But where there is a King, there is always a Revolution, and Dinga had no idea his was so close.
This game, this fantasy game that somehow means more than the real thing, never ceases to surprise. The League of Gentlemen, the most thrilling and personal of all the mini-leagues, showed why it has earned its reputation as the elite in a stunning week of drama, with three titanic fights going on within one division.
We start with the race for fifth, which was once a battle between the Last Stand and Big Steve’s Rafalation. Both teams took chances over the blank-double-blank gameweek period to try and make the top four, but neither reckoned on The Ox’s Oxymorons emerging from the doldrums to hit top form. This week, another contender entered the fray, with Jie’s Giroud Not To closing the gap on the Last Stand to just three points. A season that started with such promise for the Last Stand – league leaders in November, with an overall ranking of top-64k – has turned into an unholy struggle just to end the season with any sort of relevance. Despite starting the week with big scores from Alexander-Arnold and captain Mane, supported by fine returns from Vardy and Ward-Prowse, the Last Stand failed to get any other returns, which opened the door for Jie to, at one stage, take over seventh spot. Though the Last Stand ended Sunday back in seventh, they are going to have to deliver a strong final fortnight to prevent a terrible end to an underwhelming season.
Seventh spot will not be the limit to either the Last Stand’s or Jie’s ambitions, with The Ox and Big Steve both within reach. The Ox lies only 15 points ahead of seventh place; while his minimal-transfers policy has paid off in recent weeks, the question is whether his faith in his men will be punished through missing out on the form players. With nine returns from his first-team this week, and a further two on his bench, he will feel satisfied his squad is strong enough to see out the season – although his rivals will disagree. The big question is whether it will be enough to haul back Big Steve, who has a 30-point cushion over sixth place. That may be enough to hold off his challengers, but will it be enough for Big Steve? He seems to have a balanced squad, but his defence is looking a little weak. The other consideration is whether he goes all-out to challenge Who Horner in fourth, 44 points ahead. It’s a big gap to overcome in just two weeks, but it’s possible, especially with enough differences between the two squads. The risk is, in trying to chase fourth, Big Steve could lead himself open to be overtaken by one of the chasing pack. However this four-way dance ends up, it’s certain to be exciting, and it could come down to something as simple as who picks the right captain.
Who Horner won’t be worrying too much about what’s behind him – his eyes are firmly set on hauling back Flash in third, just 19 points away. The quiet man of the division, Who Horner takes no risks, and sticks firmly to the rules. With zero hits all season, despite sometimes only having six players eligible, it’s impressive that Who Horner is doing as well as he is. His faith in his side has served him well, but he has some big decisions to make. Is 5-3-2 really the formation to overhaul Flash? Is it worth having two Brighton players, given their last two games? Does he stick with double Wolves defence, knowing they go to Anfield on the final day? With two free transfers to play, Who Horner could gain the edge over Flash, if he plays them correctly. Flash lies 53 points off second place, which is a big gap to make up. Many players in that position would settle for what they have, see off the challenge of Who Horner and content themselves with a massive rise in performance from last year. But Flash isn’t most players. He’ll be wary of Who Horner, but he’ll be looking at that 53 points and thinking, just 27 a week. 27 points more than Jeeves this week, then the same again the week after. It’s a big ask, but with only six of the same outfield players in the squad, it’s not impossible. If Mane, Lacazette and Eriksen produce, if Salah gets stifled by Rafa’s defensive masterplan, and if Flash’s Laporte snuffs out Jeeves’ Vardy, the gap going into the final day could be much, much smaller. Flash just needs to remain wary of Who Horner, who still has his Triple Captain chip to play.
One thing is for sure, and that is that Jeeves will not be thinking about Flash challenging him at all. After a disastrous GW 35, which saw the gap to the top extend to a seemingly-unassailable 79 points, the question was asked: Does Jeeves consolidate and secure second place, or does he keep on fighting, even though King Ding was already polishing his crown? Anyone who knows Jeeves knows he never gives up. He called his band The Revolution because he believes he was born to overthrow the monarchy and seize the throne for himself. He looked at Dinga, 79 points ahead, and thought: he’s fucked this. His squad is too weak, and Dinga is too cautious to take a hit, and that’s what’ll cost him.
Dinga himself was reticent to declare himself the champion. He’s been around the block enough to know that, in this game we call FPL, it’s never over until it’s over. He knew he had an advantage, but he knew that he had to make it count. No wrong decisions, he thought. Safe captaincy choices. See it home, then celebrate at 5pm on the twelfth of May. He knew he had a triple-captaincy to play, which gave him a further cushion, but he had to retain his sharpness. Complacency kills, especially in the League of Gentlemen. Dinga’s big problem was he had no Liverpool coverage, and they were playing one of the worst teams in Premier League history. With only 0.4m in the bank, he had three options: He could bring in Alexander-Arnold for Trippier, benched for successive weeks; he could bring in Firmino for Aubameyang; or he could take a hit and bring in a combination of Liverpool players. Even a -8 wouldn’t have caused too much damage, given Jeeves’ early declaration that he had brought in Firmino and Salah for De Bruyne and Aguero, but it could have well and truly sealed the deal.
As 7pm approached, a hush fell over the village of Askham, as Jeeves awaited the King’s decision. Is it Firmino for Aubameyang? Is it Alexander-Arnold for Trippier? Is it a hit, maybe even Sterling and Duffy for Mane and Alexander-Arnold? Has he found a way to get Salah, the most dangerous player in FPL, into his team for a home match against the pitiful Huddersfield? And, given there was no better fixture remaining to deploy the Triple Captain, unto which of his warriors would the King bequeath the sword? 7pm came, and with it the usual nightmare of the delayed update. Jeeves sat there, pressing refresh over and over. He needed to know what he was up against. He needed to see who Dinga had brought in for the run-in. Jeeves knew his captain of Salah gave him a chance, but he also knew if Dinga captained Salah that threat was neutralised, and if he Triple Captained Salah, it was game over. 7.30pm rolled around, and still Jeeves pressed refresh. When would this bloody game update? The would-be revolutionary was feeling the tension, and stepped into his garden for a smoke, and to discuss the situation with Cass, his right-hand wolf. Cass cared not for the trivial nature of FPL, being far more concerned with wolf things, and headed back into the house. Jeeves tried to call him to heel, but it was no use, and he had to abandon his smoke to stop the wolf knocking his drink over. Back in his private quarters, he pressed refresh once more. This time, the game had updated. That’s when Jeeves saw the news …
Dinga had made no transfers at all.
They say in football that, if you stand still, you get left behind. Dinga, normally so cautious, had taken the biggest gamble of his season, chancing the entire throne, by avoiding any Liverpool representation whatsoever. Jeeves may be the Hitmaster, but he also knows that, sometimes, a minus four can lead to scores more. As 8pm rolled around, Jeeves was optimistic, but King Ding was tense. Had he made the right call? He saw Huddersfield perform bravely, putting up a heroic rear-guard action, but alas, after defending with honour and courage for 15 seconds, Salah played in Keita for the first goal, notching the first assist for Jeeves. After 23 minutes, Robertson registered a return for the revolutionary. Just before half-time, Salah got himself a goal. Towards the end, Robertson set up Salah for Liverpool’s fifth goal, and Jeeves’ fifth return of the night. The final whistle added clean sheet points to both Robertson and Jeeves’ captain Salah. The night ended with Dinga on zero points, Jeeves on 52. The 76 point lead – extended to 80 points by virtue of Jeeves’ four-point deduction – had been reduced to just 28 in 90 minutes.
As Friday gave way to Saturday, the King awoke hungover. Like Robert Baratheon himself, Dinga had abandoned his throne in order to engage in activities unbefitting of someone who held the throne, and he’d been well and truly stuck by the boar known as indecision. It’s alright though, he thought. Spurs versus West Ham. Easy clean sheet for Trippier, Son has an outstanding record against them, and Lucas Moura is there to get in on the fun. The usurper had his fun last night, Dinga thought, but this is where I show why I’m the King. Then the team-sheet came through: Trippier dropped. The man he’d kept in for fear of Alexander-Arnold being rested would pick up zero points, while Alexander-Arnold had returned ten. It’s ok, he thought, at least Doherty will come in later. First, let’s see my captain, Son, outshine this Salah chap.
Final score: Tottenham nil, West Ham one.
The rest of the weekend got no better for Dinga. He saw his Aguero outscored by Jeeves’ Vardy. He saw his two Wolves attackers return, but Jeeves has them anyway. He saw an injured Ayoze Perez deny his double-Brighton defence clean sheets. He saw Aubameyang do nothing in yet another Arsenal defeat. He saw Valery concede three goals, meaning that despite getting an assist, he only returned four points. He saw that even Firmino’s injury didn’t hamper Jeeves, with Redmond coming off the bench with five points. He saw his eleven weekend players outscore Jeeves’ nine weekend players by only one point. He saw the best chance of a devastating Triple Captain evaporate. He saw Jeeves enter the 100 Club for the third time this season, slashing the lead at the top to just 32 points. He saw certain glory within his grasp, and he can only hope he won’t see it slip away.
How Dinga responds this week is crucial. All is not lost. He still has a 32-point lead, and he knows Jeeves won’t be able to resist another hit this week, which makes it 36 points. He doesn’t need to outscore Jeeves, just keep the damage to 18 points a week. If the season ends in a tie, he knows he takes the title by virtue of a lower transfer count. He’ll say this was just a bad week, and point out how he outscored Jeeves by 27 points the week before. He’ll say Aguero at home to defensively-poor Leicester is a great Triple Captain opportunity, or Aguero away to Brighton, likely to win the title, is another. But he’ll know that his squad looks weak, and that his players look tired. He’ll know that the Jugganaut has not only found his fabled momentum, but it has reached maximum velocity, just as the Ringers are starting to look wrung out. He’ll say, like Frank Sinatra, he’ll do it his way, but he’ll know that even Sinatra was dethroned by the rock ‘n’ roll rebel, Elvis Presley. He’ll know that, instead of playing to win, he’s fighting to survive. He’ll know that Robert Baratheon was rendered immobile through his choices, and only he knows whether it was the weight of his own choices that rendered him immobile this week.
King Ding knows his day of reckoning is coming, and he has only one gameweek to prepare before it arrives. On the twelfth of May, we all find out whether the Revolution can overthrow the King.
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