With a huge opportunity to put daylight between myself and those hunting me down, I needed Gallagher to produce. Thankfully, the Palace playmaker was hungry for a haul, while my closest rival set himself up for a fall.
In the Gameweek Fifteen review, I wrote that, although I only outscored Ginger Ben by a single point, it could be the single point that changes momentum for the coming gameweeks. I had a feeling that the Ginger One, who buckled under the pressure of challenging at the top last season, would feel the weight of that single point as much as Atlas, carrying the sky on his shoulders. That hunch became reality as I checked the teams post-deadline, and I saw that he had taken a twelve-point transfer hit.
When I looked at his moves, I could see the thinking behind them, especially with two free transfers. Reguilon and Sanchez had no game, after Spurs vs Brighton was cancelled. With no substitute goalkeeper available, it made sense to use a transfer to bring one in. Replacing Reguilon for Coufal was a move that made sense, with Reguilon not playing and assist-master Coufal up against a Burnley side struggling for goals, and with no guarantee Spurs will be able to play in midweek. After that, though, it was just asking for trouble. Fuelled by rumours Jota wouldn’t play, the Ginger One decided to buy a mini-Wildcard, switching the in-form Raphinha to Bernardo, Jimenez to King and Brownhill to Bowen, then choosing to bench Jota, Livramento and Toney. It looked like it might pay off, when Jimenez had a minute of madness and got himself sent off for two stupid yellow cards, negating the ineffective King’s two points. Ultimately, though, the transfer hit cost him. When you take out the scores of free transfers Coufal and de Gea, whose combined sixteen points proved a transfer masterstroke, you’re left with the Ginger One paying twelve points to bring in nine points in Bernardo, Bowen and King, with Raphinha, Brownhill and Jimenez scoring a combined six points. Those three transfers cost Ginger Ben nine points, contributing to finding himself thirty-five points off the pace, when he’d started the gameweek just six points behind.
Of course, transfer hits can’t be judged in a vacuum. With Jimenez now suspended and Brownhill and average holding midfielder, Bowen and King could well rack up far more than nine extra points in the next two or three gameweeks. Even with Raphinha in form, you’d have to back Bernardo to get more points out of games against Leeds, Newcastle, Leicester and Brentford than Raphinha will against Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and the resurgent Aston Villa, especially with Bamford and Phillips injured. So it could well be the Ginger One has played a masterstroke. As of now, however, he finds himself further away than where he began, and he must learn the lesson of his transfer profligacy.
It’s a lesson imparted with venom, as my Lords outscored him by 29 points to put daylight between us in the title race. The Saturday performances of Ramsdale and Rudiger gave me twenty differential points that served as a fantastic platform, and entering Sunday with more players than my rivals and also none of them in a position to close the gap, due to – with the exception of Coufal - my owning their players, I had a real opportunity to establish some breathing space. It’s one that looked like going begging, after Coufal’s clean sheet and the failure to secure attacking returns from Bowen and Antonio. Entering the final match of the gameweek, I had one trump card left to play in Gallagher.
The Palace man had been quiet so far for the Lords, scoring just three points in two games. Having survived being sold by virtue of Son having no game, it was an opportunity fated unto him by the FPL Gods themselves. The midfield maestro was in no mood to disappoint again, stepping up to smash home two goals to secure fifteen huge points, sending me 35 points clear at the top, and perhaps even more importantly, forty points clear of Jockin’ Jeeves. Though I have huge respect for the abilities of Ginger Ben and third-place Go Cartin, it’s the two-time champ that causes me the biggest concern, and putting a further eighteen points between us was a great relief. Knowing how the Rap Rob Roy has dismissed King Ding’s four titles as luck, I know he will be doing the same to myself. I hope he continues to do so, because the longer I play the no-hits strategy, the more I realise that the King’s Road is the one to walk, the one where luck factors the least and skilled judgements are of paramount importance. Picking a player to produce in one gameweek is luck. Selecting one to perform over several takes a bit more nous, and I am quite pleased that my judgements have – so far, at least – proven themselves of the quality required to succeed.
Of course, there is a long way to go. We have only just completed the sixteenth of thirty-eight gameweeks, and forty points is nowhere near a big enough margin to relax with twenty-two gameweeks remaining. Still, it makes me feel quite proud to have been the first man to a thousand points this season, and to be top of the table with a big fat zero in the transfer hits column. I devised a plan in pre-season, and now I’m executing it, even when the fear and self-doubt are at their highest, and that plan has taken me to heights I have never been before. I’m sure I will be clawed back. I’m sure I will be knocked off the top before long, and that I will have to believe in the plan harder than ever. I’m sure that I’ll stumble, and I’ll slip-up, and I’ll make the wrong transfer decisions, like when I started the season with Harvey Barnes instead of Benrahma, or when I brought in Toney instead of Dennis, or Mbeumo instead of Smith-Rowe. The question is whether I can handle the pressure, in a way that Grinchy Vogt was unable to, that the Chancellor has struggled to and that Ginger Ben showed signs of wilting under this gameweek.
So far, I am doing just that. I’m even starting to enjoy it. I hope I can continue to prove the doubters wrong, even myself, the biggest doubter of them all.
The Cup Chronicles
Gameweek Sixteen saw the Gentlemen’s Classic Group Stages brought to a conclusion, with both Stage Two groups poised on a knife-edge as to who would make the semi-finals. With the winner of Big Steve versus Jockin’ Jeeves guaranteed to top Group A, the Butcher leaving seven-point Raphinha on the bench looked potentially disastrous. While Jeeves left nine-point Dennis on the bench, he was always expected to take the field, given the injury doubts in the Townhead Gunners squad, and so it proved, with Smith-Rowe the man to drop out. Throughout the gameweek, Jeeves struggled to match the Butcher, with every one of Big Steve’s differential players either matching or beating the scores of the Rap Rob Roy’s alternates, and Jeeves’s four-point hit leaving him in even more trouble. Once Gallagher hammered home his humongous haul, it was all over, and Big Steve was confirmed the group winner. That left Jeeves needing Sirloin Sean to find only his second win of Stage Two, and in the most remarkable turn of events, he managed to do just that, smashing Dan the Dragon by 28 points. That left the Dragon – who was four points clear after three games, with maximum points in the bag – suffering the ignominy of going out on the Tiebreaker after three straight defeats, and Jockin’ Jeeves making it into the Semi-Finals as Group A runner-up.
We knew that he would be facing Ginger Ben, who could only be tied on points at the top of Group B by The Ox, over whom he held the Tiebreaker advantage. What we didn’t know was who would be facing Big Steve, with the defending Classic champion, Hitman Hodgson, two points behind The Ox but with the Tiebreaker advantage. All he had to do to qualify was defeat the man struggling in 23rd place in the league table. Yet, despite his struggles in the standings, The Ox has proven himself somewhat of a cup specialist this season, managing to find the key results at the key times. So it proved again, with Arsenal dup Tomiyasu and Odegaard outscoring the Hitman’s James and Fornals by thirteen points, and The Ox having Aarons as a two-point substitute to replace Smith-Rowe, whereas the Hitman had nobody to step in for Vardy. Those fifteen points proved the difference, as The Ox romped to the Semi-Finals by 73 points to 58, setting up a tantalising rematch of last season’s Gentlemen’s Trophy clash against The Butcher. It was Big Steve who proved triumphant last season, but nobody would bet against this version of The Ox finding a way to make it through to the Grand Final. Meanwhile, Ginger Ben enters his Semi-Final with all momentum washed away, having had his score more than doubled by the Hundred Club-entering Red Hot Rob.
Gentlemen’s Classic results, Matchday Twelve:
Jockin' Jeeves 61 – 81 Big Steve
Dan the Dragon 60 – 88 Sirloin Sean
Red Hot Rob 101 – 50 Ginger Ben
The Ox 73 – 58 Hitman Hodgson
Final Group tables:
It was a close affair in the Eliminator, with three Gentlemen finishing within five points of each other. Though he departed from the Gentlemen’s Classic, Hitman Hodgson lives to fight another day in this competition thanks to seven-point Raphinha rising off the bench. That turn of fortune left Ash the Bash Eliminated with 53 points, and he was joined by the 54 points of Iceman Newton, betrayed by the Raphinha he reveres so much. In the end, the Iceman lost by just four points – the four-point swing of Jimenez’s minute of madness. That leaves us with just thirteen competitors remaining, and with two gameweeks of double-Eliminations still to come, some big names are destined to fall before the final run-in.
There was a lot of excitement in the Irrelevants this gameweek, starting with Lethal Lee moving one point ahead of Wooden Spoon Helling at the bottom of the division. Metal Marc continues to be more active than he has been historically, with his four-point hit seeing Dennis add the flourish that rose him two places, above the absentee Slick Rick and Lionheart Lamb, who continued his bizarre run of captaincies by replacing Saint-Maximin, who has worn the armband the previous two gameweeks, with Werner, with a predictable outcome of failure. Flash Funk’s ears must have been burning, because after his absence was highlighted last time out, he returned to the fray by playing his Wildcard. Sadly, it was not a success, with Sanchez’s absence and Manquillo’s minus-one score underlining the issues the Funkmaster has faced this season. Also suffering a poor Wildcard was Stone Cold Stephen Levins, who dropped a place in the table, overtaken by the four-place rising Rough Rider, who recovered from last gameweek’s catastrophe with a strong 77-point score. That left him in 28th place, one above Mack Daddy McMahon, who fell a huge five places in Gameweek Sixteen. Also securing green arrows were Private Parvesh, Daredevil Daisy and Dodger Rodgers, who all rose a place or two, though the positive runs of Killer Kev and the Masterchef came to an end, with the Masterchef’s decision to captain Fred particularly mystifying. He told Jez Messing it was the logical conclusion to seeing Fred score nine and eleven points in Rangnick’s first two league games as Manchester United manager, but given Bernardo outscored Fred’s total in both those gameweeks, he seemed a safer option as a differential captain.
In the top half of the table, Sirloin Sean’s 88 points saw him rise six places to twentieth, while Gladiator Glen rose above Deadly Daz and Brad the Lad swapped positions with Big-Time Birkett. A whole spate of red arrows followed, with Grinchy Vogt’s fall to fifteenth, having seen just seven players take the field, and the Dragon’s two-place drop to twelfth the most notable of the falls. Those red arrows were an inevitable consequence of the high scores of the two men at the top of the Irrelevants, with Big Steve’s 81 points seeing him climb three places to tenth, while Red Hot Rob entering the Hundred Club, for the second time this season, saw him climb six places to ninth, just a point away from entering the Elite.
Though have made it to the Elite, both King Ding and Hitman Hodgson remain far closer to falling back down than climbing into the upper echelons of the table. King Ding’s recent resurgence is typical of the man, and his fighting spirit is the reason why he is a four-time champion. Pipping Red Hot Rob into the Elite by a single point is a just reward for his post-Wildcard run of form, and though there are 42 points between his eighth place and the Chancellor’s sixth, he will be looking up the table and seeing vulnerability, and though he is now 88 points off the top, that is well within striking range for the comeback King. The Hitman will be disappointed that, having reached seventh last gameweek, he was unable to push on this time out. Having seen Mighty Mouse hit 83 points to climb above the Chancellor into fifth, the Hitman will be hoping for a similar outcome for himself in Gameweek Seventeen, having failed to outscore any of the teams around him. Mighty Mouse’s huge total closed the gap considerably with those above him in the Elite, with only eight points now separating him in fifth from Ginger Ben – who he thrashed by 33 points – in second. Indeed, with the Chancellor just a point behind Mighty Mouse, the chasing pack are clustered together as tight as they have ever been. With a fine mix of inexperienced exuberance and war-ravaged veteran know-how, any one of the five could make a break for the top. Gameweek Seventeen – with several fixtures under threat of cancellation at time of writing – will go a long way to determining who that surging Gentleman will be.
The Man Who Would Be King
With the competition so fierce behind me, I am grateful for the thirty-five point cushion I end Gameweek Sixteen with. Gallagher was my star man, with his huge haul in the final match of the gameweek so crushing from a psychological perspective for my rivals, but the impact of Ramsdale and especially Rudiger cannot be understated. While many behind me turned to the more exciting Alonso, my enduring faith in the rampaging runs of Rudiger was rewarded with two assists. Having missed out on his fourteen-point haul in Gameweek Twelve, I swore to myself I would not make the same mistake again, and my patience through his five points in three gameweeks paid off big-style. Likewise, three blanks in four games saw several of my rivals plump for de Gea, but Ramsdale has been my man since my Wildcard, and that consistency paid off with him becoming the highest-scoring goalkeeper this gameweek. While those behind me keep taking hits in the search for a difference-maker, I am happy to continue allowing consistency to be my greatest differential. I am torn between bringing in Dennis and Watkins for Gameweek Seventeen, but I suspect I will bring in Dennis, for two reasons. One, the Brentford match is at risk of cancellation, meaning to bring in Watkins for Saint-Maximin – already one gamble – would mean risking leaving myself short on the bench, and doing so to avoid signing the highest-scoring and most in-form striker in the league. I could gamble on not needing a substitute striker, and I could gamble on Watkins outscoring Dennis, but I think gambling on both together might just be a step too far. When hits are banned, you have to play the percentages; so far, I am getting the close-calls correct, more often than not. I end Gameweek Sixteen with a 38.5k rise up to 75,465 in the overall rankings, but more importantly, with some breathing space at the top. However, I know it could all vanish in one disastrous gameweek, so I will not get ahead of myself, and I will keep tackling the season the way I have been: one gameweek at a time.
That concludes our round-up of Gameweek Sixteen, one which saw the Semi-Finalists for the Gentlemen’s Classic confirmed, which saw the Ginger Goliath throw a 12-point stone at his own head, and which saw my differential players fire me clear at the top. Ahead of what appears likely to be a much-disrupted Gameweek Seventeen, may all your transfers be successes, may all your arrows be green, and may the FPL Gods be in your favour.
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The FPL Nightmare: How to Lose the World's Greatest Mini-League in 38 Simple Steps
The FPL Nightmare II:
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The Lawes Rank Redemption
The Complete FPL Nightmare Trilogy:
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All Lawes wants is to win The League of Gentlemen, yet the FPL Gods are bastards that conspire against him.
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