The Gentlemen faced a real challenge to navigate the first major Blank Gameweek of the season. Point deductions, Free Hits and Wildcards flew around, only to see one of the lowest-scoring gameweeks so far, one where defensive players were the major winners.
The first major blank gameweek of the season gave the Gentlemen a real dilemma. Do they use their Free Hit, maximise a squad for the gameweek and deal with the rest of the season afterwards? Do they use their Wildcard, and hope to prepare a squad not just for the blank gameweek, but the double gameweek that follows? Or do they take a hit or two, go into the gameweek with less than a full team and hope the damage isn’t too great?
With solid arguments for every strategy, it all came down to the Gentlemen’s discretion. The Butcher was one man who opted to ride the blank with an eight-point hit, only to see one new signing not play and his team secure a final gameweek score of just seventeen points, resulting in a big drop in the rankings. Lord Geord also went for the eight-point hit, saw all three new signings secure returns and end with a 39-point final score, while King Ding took his first hit in two seasons and saw his new signing drag the Ringers to mediocrity. As ever with FPL, it’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it, which is an important lesson to bear in mind going into the first double gameweek of the season.
While those three managers have every hit remaining at their disposal, for the rest of the division, a long season could be ahead. More than half the division emerge from Gameweek Eighteen with their Free Hit chip gone, while, incredibly, seven managers have used their second Wildcard of the season. When we are not even at the halfway point and you’ve used your strongest chip, despite games being cancelled and rearranged at the last minute left, right and centre, you can’t help but feel people are asking for trouble, and will come to regret going so early with the Wildcard. Indeed, the squad they have assembled could conceivably have their next few fixtures scrapped on a whim and a cough, and the Wildcard would be gone, unable to be used again. Perhaps they are banking on the season being postponed and unlimited free transfers being permitted ahead of a potential Project Restart 2.0, but that is a risky move, when there has been no appetite within football for the season to be halted. Ironically, one of the big winners from Gameweek Eighteen was Iceman Newton, who is on one of his periodic sabbaticals and did nothing with his squad, yet saw his team rise back into the Title Contenders.
With the first major double gameweek of the season up next, at what will see us reach the halfway point of the season, Gameweek Nineteen will prove pivotal in the season. For those managers who planned ahead, or who have used their second Wildcard, it is looking an opportune time to unleash the Bench Boost chip. While the cancellations of Aston Villa vs Everton and Leeds vs Southampton have thrown some curveballs into long-term plans, Aston Villa now have a more advantageous second game against Newcastle, while Leeds face a Brighton team with just two wins all season. For those who have failed to plan ahead, the second Wildcard could come into play, allowing them to select the optimum starting XI for a gameweek which promises so many points. We could even see some Triple Captain chips being played, especially with Manchester City having two favourable home fixtures. Chip usage is key to success in FPL; both last gameweek and next will reveal so much about which managers have to potential for glory this season.
The Cup Chronicles
For one manager, that glory potential has been decreased after Gameweek Eighteen, as the Eliminator continued its endless drive for destruction. Heading into the last match of the gameweek, three managers were in contention for Elimination: Who Horner, King Ding and Slick Rick. Each manager had one player in the final match; Who Horner had Mitchell, the King’s hope was Saka, while the Slickster was depending upon Zaha. With all three managers within a four-point range, the pressure was on the King, whose hit meant he was three points behind Horner, but without which he would have no chance at all. The equation was simple: a Saka return would eliminate Who Horner, with the King having the Tiebreaker advantage; the only way Slick Rick was under threat was if both Mitchell and Saka secured goals or assists. In a surprisingly open game, both Saka and Mitchell came close to assists; as the game went on, the influence of Saka grew, creating chance after wasted chance for his team-mates. Just one goal, that’s what the King though; if just one of these great opportunities could be put away, the Ringers will survive by the skin of their teeth again. As the final whistle approach, Arsenal went for it all, bringing on Pepe and moving Saka to wing-back. Nightmare, thought the King; the chance is gone. Yet, it wasn’t. Saka kept bombing forward, kept creating opportunities, and now there were more attackers on the field. We need this, the King cried, knowing that Mitchell was on for bonus points. As Palace dropped deeper and deeper, Slick Rick relaxed, knowing that Mitchell would not be joining the attack anymore. I’m through, he thought. It’s just whether Who Horner or the King joins me; they can’t both go through.
As the match entered its final moments, Saka tossed in one final cross. The moment of truth. The King, or Who Horner. The goal goes in, the King goes through. The chance is wasted, the King goes out. Time seemed to pass slower than normal. The ball moved tantalisingly through the Palace penalty area. Pepe threw himself at the ball, but his head could not connect. Nketiah stuck out his right foot, but the ball zipped on by. The King was going out, there would be no Last Thing Ding to save the situation this week. But wait. At the back post, behind the defenders, Aubameyang crept towards the ball. In a quiet season by his standards, the Gabonese goal machine was about to announce his arrival. The ball made its way through. Aubameyang took aim. He pulled back his boot, the keeper stranded in no-man’s land, the goal at his mercy. Somehow, someway, the Saka assist in the dying moments would see the King through. Who Horner’s head was in his hands. He knew. He knew that his valiant effort had been thwarted at the last. He knew that the King had found a way, like he did last season, when he somehow came from behind to win the title on the final day. The King had done it again. Aubameyang swung his foot forward. The King leapt from his seat, hands raising in the air. Foot met ball, and it was all over. Yet … the King’s head was in his hands, a look of disbelief on his face. Who Horner, sunk in his seat, hadn’t yet realised what had happened. Somehow, against all the odds, a Palace defender had got a toe to the ball, the faintest of touches, diverting it just enough that Aubameyang missed. The Palace goalkeeper went over, lifting the hero to his feet, as the ball rolled harmlessly out of play and the final whistle blew. The Palace defenders saluted their man, the one who had saved the clean sheet and saved Who Horner’s bacon. The man who had condemned the King to Elimination. One by one, they all shook hands with Mitchell, the hero of the day … the man who Eliminated the King.
Eliminated from the FPL Cup this week: Mack Daddy McMahon, The Ox, Lord Geord, Slick Rick, Big Steve, Ginger Ben.
Still in the FPL Cup: Maverick Mikey, Deadly Daz, All-Star Vogt, Red Hot Rob, Dan the Dragon.
The League of Gentlemen:
Tenth in the League of Gentlemen last season, Private Parvesh now seems condemned to this year’s Wooden Spoon. A disaster of a week saw just nineteen points scored, meaning a total of just 727 points, with the gap to Maverick Mikey now 94 points. Mikey’s 54 points closed the gap on 13-point scoring Metal Marc to just fourteen points, with a 25-point gap between Metal Marc and 21st-placed Wildman Whitfield on 860 points. Mack Daddy McMahon’s forty points move him 23 points clear in 20th, with nineteenth-place Big-Time Birkett the only manager to captain a player – Foden – who scored double-figures this week. He’s on 899 points now, just nine behind the plummeting Masterchef, who secured just 23 points this week. The fall continues for Wooden Spoon Helling, with set-and-forget tactics always a weakness in blank and double gameweeks. He’s also on 908 points, but is ahead of the Masterchef by virtue of transfers made. Rising two places above them both is Who Horner, though there is a huge gap between his 918 points and Deadly Daz’s 965, a gap that grew after a strong 55 points this week. Firmly in his sights is King Ding, just one point ahead in fourteenth. While his first hit in two seasons paid off, the rest of his team just couldn’t get going, resulting in a fall of three places.
Twelve points ahead of the King is Sirloin Sean, who falls a place despite a strong score of 52 points. The reason for that is the scores of All-Star Vogt and Hitman Hodgson, who both scored in excess of 60 points and moved onto 981 and 985 points respectively. The Ox lies five points clear in tenth place, while Lord Geord’s one-week stay in the Chasing Pack predictably ended after he opted not to use his Free Hit. His final score of 39 points keeps him four points clear of The Ox, and the pressure is now on the Lord to use his saved chip wisely later in the season.
The Chasing Pack
A first appearance in the Chasing Pack for Red Hot Rob, who has been gaining momentum in recent weeks and utilised his Free Hit chip for a gameweek score of 58. Captain Kane led the way with sixteen points, while Leno, Stones, de Bruyne, Rashford and Mitchell all chipped in with a return each. Looking ahead to the double gameweek, Red Hot Rob has eight players with two games, although one – Abraham – is less likely to start. In addition to that, five of his remaining seven players have strong single fixtures, meaning the Bench Boost could well come into play as he looks to keep the momentum going. He’s now just six points behind his fellow Appleby Assassin, the Butcher, who suffered a true FPL Nightmare this week. A disastrous gamble from the Butcher saw a hit taken for Steffen, who did not play and will be relegated to the bench for the foreseeable future. Mendy was not selected, leaving the Butcher with no representation in the strong Manchester City back line, while captain Bruno scored just four points. With only seven players having double gameweeks – one of whom, Mendy, is out of favour – the bench boost seems unlikely for Gameweek Nineteen, especially with Neto an injury doubt, Steffen expected not to play and Holgate no longer having a game. The disappointment of this week may even see the Butcher opt for his Wildcard, though it may not be the shrewdest move. The pressure is on for Big Steve, and he has to get these transfers correct if he is to right last season’s wrongs.
Moving into sixth place, six points ahead on 1,023 points, is Jockin’ Jeeves, though his rise involved the use of his Wildcard. The twelve points of captain de Bruyne were supported by returns from de Gea, Dias, Stones and Kane for a score of 47 points, leaving him level with fifth-place Slick Rick and fourth-place Iceman Newton but behind on transfers made. The use of the Wildcard rather than the Free Hit looks like it may come back to haunt Jeeves; the cancellation of Leeds vs Southampton meaning the Juggernauts have just nine players with two games next week, one of whom – Lindelof – is injured. While the five players with one match have favourable games, the signing of Brewster – with no goals or assists all season and with Spurs, Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea in his next five games – is a peculiar one. Jeeves revealed to reporter Jez Messing that he will be activating his bench boost and, while Lindelof is likely to be replaced, he has ‘a feeling’ that Brewster will surprise a few people next time out. A bold gamble, especially with £2.1m still in the bank and Wilson, Watkins and Wood all proven goalscorers with two matches. He will fancy himself to overhaul fifth-placed Slick Rick this week, given they start level on points and he has outscored the Slickster by 86 points over the last six gameweeks. Slick Rick could be vulnerable to more than just Jeeves, too, given he only has three players with two matches next gameweek, while two of his squad have no game at all and another is an injury doubt. It’s a situation which demands a Free Hit or a Wildcard; without one of those chips, Slick Rick could even fall as far as the Irrelevants, given the proximity and squad strength of those hunting him down.
The Title Contenders
In almost remarkable fashion, the absent Iceman has risen back into the Title Contenders by virtue of luck as much as design. With no management of his team for four gameweeks now, the question remains as to whether the Iceman will return at all, especially after abandoning his team halfway through last season. Nevertheless, were he to return this week, he would find himself in a much better position than when he left. The fortuity of going absent as Digne got injured paid off this week; having not been removed from team, the Everton man marked his return to action with a crucial assist. Another substitute, Mitchell, scored eight points, while Reguilon and captain Kane provided twenty-four points between them. Fortune may not even fade for the absentee landlord during the double gameweek, with seven players playing twice and four having favourable fixtures. However long he rides the wave for, you can’t help but feel it’s a matter of time until the Iceman slides down the table but, should he return to active management, he could yet prove a threat in the upper reaches for weeks to come.
Moving 31 points clear into third is Flash Funk, who has rebounded from his Gentlemen’s Classic disaster with two back-to-back sixty-pointers, establishing himself as the real long-term threat to the Dragon at the top. Twenty-one points from his three defenders set the stage, with de Bruyne and Rashford getting further returns to complement captain Kane’s sixteen points, resulting in the third-highest score of the gameweek and the highest in the top ten. Now on 1,054 points, Flash Funk remains 94 points behind the Dragon, but this week marked the first time in eight gameweeks that he outscored the table-topper. That it took a Free Hit to do so could be a concern, though with twelve players having a double gameweek and the remaining three having strong fixtures, Flash will be expecting to claw back the gap further next time out. Expect Balbuena to be replaced by Stones, while a hit may be taken to replace the injury doubt Taylor too. Also expect Flash to Bench Boost – he has been building towards this gameweek for a while, and he is now poised to take full advantage.
Separating Flash Funk from the Dragon is Ginger Ben, who lost more ground on the table-topper again this week. Having wasted his Free Hit in Gameweek Four, the Ginger One opted to use his Wildcard to navigate the blank gameweek, yet does not appear to have optimised his squad for a Bench Boost next time out, with eight players only having a single match, one of whom, Forster, is unlikely to start, while another, Brewster, is without an attacking return in his entire top-flight career. Three defensive returns, eight points from Kane and twelve from captain de Bruyne keep the Ginger One in the hunt, but with Bench Boost his only chip remaining, it feels like his position is a house of cards, one that could collapse at any time. He does retain a 33-point cushion over his nearest rival, but we’re at the stage of the season where experience is beginning to tell, and Flash Funk has years of strategy and history to fall back on, whereas this is Ginger Ben’s second FPL season. He’s relying on the Dragon to mess up with his Wildcard, whenever he plays it, to make up the 61-point gap; without an error, it will be very difficult for the Ginger One to overhaul the man at the top.
The Man Who Would Be King
Another strong week for the Free-Hitting Dragon, who played a blinder in selecting nine-point Ramsdale in goal – clearly, weeks of watching Steve Bruce’s football made it clear the worst team in Premier League history were due a result. The shrewdness of that signing was not echoed in naming Mitchell third-sub, though the rest of the Gentlemen will be pleased with the selection of one-point Saiss ahead of him. Stones, de Bruyne, Rashford and captain Kane got the other points, with the attack-heavy line-up disappointed not to bring in more points in what proved a very low-scoring gameweek. Still, it was enough for the Dragon to extend the gap at the top by an extra three points, the Free Hit proving a successful one. It’s touch and go whether the Dragon uses his Bench Boost next time out. His squad was maximised towards doing so, but the cancellation of Leeds vs Southampton leaves him with four players now having just one match, rather than two, while Calvert-Lewin has no game and Greenwood remains out-of-favour, despite the injury to Martial. If I was a betting man, I’d predict no Bench Boost for the Dragon, given that there will be further double gameweeks down the line, and he can Wildcard the week before to get the most out of his Bench Boost chip. Given the 61-point lead at the top, there’s really no need for him to force it; keeping his powder dry and an advantage for down the line would be the shrewd play. Now on 1,148 points and up to 8,517 in the overall world rankings, this is truly a spectacular League of Gentlemen debut season. If he continues in this vein, he may not only be the man to end the King’s reign of terror, he could smash his record overall ranking in the process.
That concludes our round-up of Blank Gameweek Eighteen, one that saw the Butcher suffer a true FPL Nightmare, one that saw Jockin’ Jeeves Wildcard his way to level points with the Title Contenders, and which saw Flash Funk position himself as the greatest long-term threat to the Dragon, who is having the season of his life. Next time out promises to be even more dramatic, with Bench Boosts being played and the double gameweek raising the expectancy of some huge scores, and several potential entries into this season’s Hundred Club. As always, may all your transfers be successes, may all your arrows be green, and may the FPL Gods forever be in your favour.
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