The Gentlemen's Trophy Semi-Finals remain in the balance following a tight gameweek, one which saw the Dragon move ever-closer to a historic success.
It was a low-scoring gameweek in the League of Gentlemen, with most of the heavily-owned players failing to fire and a division-high gameweek score of 59 points. Nobody felt the sting of disappointment harder than the Butcher, who left sixteen points on the bench at a time of the season when he just could not afford to waste any points. With just five gameweeks remaining in the campaign, the eighty-point gap to the Dragon is looking insurmountable; with him needing to outscore his rival by sixteen points a gameweek, it is looking like a second-successive silver for Big Steve. He will refuse to surrender until the inevitable is confirmed but, with the scale of the Dragon's victory the only thing in question at the top, the rest of us need to look elsewhere in the division for our drama.
The race for the bronze medal remains very much in the balance, with Grinchy Vogt and Ginger Ben within a point of each other, and Jockin' Jeeves well and truly in the hunt, twenty-nine points back but with the momentum, having outscored both of his rivals this week. While Flash Funk's 35-point gameweek has left him 67 points adrift and out of bronze medal contention, the three-way dance between Jeeves, Vogt and Ginger Ben promises to go right to the wire. Grinchy Vogt has the advantage this week, but with both him and Ginger Ben only in their second League of Gentlemen seasons, Jockin' Jeeves will be the favourite to many neutral observers.
In the Irrelevants, there is no drama over who will suffer the ignominy of being awarded this year's Wooden Spoon. It will be Private Parvesh, who has suffered a catastrophic drop in standards this season, plummeting from a top-half finish to rock-bottom, over a hundred points adrift. The drama in the lower reaches comes from the race for twelfth position, the cut-off point for automatic qualification for the Gentlemen's Classic next season. With every team desperate to avoid the lottery of an early-season play-off for one of the final four spots, finishing in the top twelve is simply crucial. King Ding, 35 points clear of thirteenth, has surely done enough to receive safe passage to the group stages, but Lord Geord, The Ox, Deadly Daz, Slick Rick and now Iceman Newton remain in contention for the final two golden tickets, with the Masterchef still harbouring a slim hope, too. With just four points keeping the Ox in the final qualification slot, this is a contest that will not be settled until the Final Day, and promises many twists and turns over the last five gameweeks.
The final curveball, the one that could be the determining factor in these battles, are the impending double and blank gameweeks to come. Expected in Gameweeks 35 and 36, these promise to test the Gentlemen to their limits. With most managers having used all their chips and so much on the line, forward planning for these two gameweeks is essential - as those who failed to plan for Blank Gameweek Thirty Three found out to their peril, with Wildcards played, many hits taken, and with one Gentleman scoring just eighteen points this week.
The Cup Chronicles
With only four teams remaining in the Gentlemen's Trophy, the tension was palpable as the Gentlemen involved set their teams for the first leg of the semi-finals. Jockin' Jeeves, twelve places higher in the table and a two-time League of Gentlemen winner, started as strong favourite against the competition's surprise package, Who Horner. Having been denied a semi-final berth last season as a result of a stoppage-time goal in the final match of the gameweek, Who Horner was determined to embrace the occasion this time, and gained an unexpected upper-hand when Raphinha was ruled out, leaving Jockin' Jeeves with just ten players. Entering the final match of the gameweek, Jockin' Jeeves had a four-point advantage courtesy of captain Salah's eighteen points, but Who Horner's captain was Vardy, still to play against one of the most obliging defences in the league. Unfortunately for Horner, not only did captain Vardy fail to return, but the Jeeves-owned Iheanacho both scored and assisted, giving the Rap Rob Roy a twelve-point lead ahead of Gameweek 34's deciding leg.
The other semi-final was the match everyone wanted to see: the reigning Gentlemen's Trophy holder and back-to-back League of Gentlemen champion, King Ding, versus his seemingly-inevitable usurper, Dan the Dragon. While the King has underwhelmed this season, his nous and expertise could not be written-off, especially when he was playing his Wildcard. Both men made mistakes, with the Dragon starting the four-goal-conceding Saiss and the King captaining a blanking Bruno who had just a single goal and assist in the seven gameweeks prior to this one. The Dragon's captaincy of Salah may have been unspectacular, but his goal gave the Dragon a crucial six-point lead going into the second leg. He'll reflect that it could've been more, had Castagne not scored his first goal since Gameweek One, but he'll also know that, had the King named Iheanacho captain, rather than vice-captain, or played either of his six-point-scoring defenders, the advantage would be non-existent. This match remains on a knife-edge entering the second leg, with the King also holding a potential trump card with his Bench Boost chip. Whether he uses it, or risks repeating the mistake of Deadly Daz last year and saving it for a potential final, remains to be seen.
Gentlemen's Trophy, Semi Final, First Leg scores:
The League of Gentlemen:
The bottom nine remains identical, with no changes in position and no significant closing of any gaps by any of the basement-dwellers, save for the Masterchef in sixteenth, who shrunk the distance to fifteenth-place Slick Rick to seventeen points after outscoring him by thirty-one, despite only having ten men and Mings scoring minus-one. It is the race for twelfth, and automatic qualification to next season's Gentlemen's Classic, that is providing the drama in the division in the closing weeks, and his eighteen-point gameweek saw Slick Rick concede crucial ground. Lack of forward-planning left him with just six players, while his missing the early deadline left him without a captain, enabling the absent Iceman Newton to overtake him into fourteenth and a twenty-point gap emerge to twelfth place, currently held by The Ox. He's lucky that Deadly Daz opted to bring in Vardy rather than Iheanacho, otherwise the Dazzler would be sixteen points clear in twelfth rather than four points behind The Ox. Lord Geord's sacrificing the advantage to The Ox and taking a 20-point hit in Gameweek Thirty-One has proved successful long-term, with the Lord now establishing a nineteen-point gap on the Ox and a 23-point qualification cushion; his eight-point hit this week brought home 34 points, and it would've been more had Saint-Maximin's assist been - rightfully - allowed to stand. King Ding is twelve points clear of the Lord in tenth, his 53 points taking him to 1,883 for the season, with Red Hot Rob rounding off the Irrelevants on 1,911 points, his 46 points this gameweek leaving him just two points away from the Chasing Pack.
The Chasing Pack
A solid gameweek for Hitman Hodgson, who saw three defenders get returns while Iheanacho and differential gamble Pereira both hauled. While he extended his lead over the Irrelevants by a point, it was a real missed-opportunity for the Hitman, whose transfer acumen badly let him down. The signings of Cavani and Jota at a cost of four points yielded just three points for his team, with Jota only securing two points by virtue of having the captaincy. Compounding the error is the knowledge that Cavani and Jota now face each other in what has become renowned for being a low-scoring fixture, with just four goals scored in the last four league matches between Liverpool and Manchester United. The Hitman's transfer mishaps enabled Sirloin Sean to retain seventh place despite taking a sixteen-point hit. Sirloin's hit paid off in incredible fashion, with an increase to his final total of 25 points from what it would've been without the transfers. Indeed, without taking such a hit, Sirloin's only return would've been from Dallas, demonstrating that, sometimes, huge gambles give huge rewards.
It's been a tough run for Flash Funk, who was riding high until his Gentlemen's Classic Grand Final defeat yet has been unable to find any real momentum since then. Only Mendy, Rudiger and Wan-Bissaka provided returns for the Funkmaster this week, with the hit taken to sign Jota and Kabak costing him two points overall. A final gameweek score of 35 points means he is now five points closer to dropping in the table, and now 38 points behind Jockin' Jeeves, whose only focus is on ensuring he maintains his record of never having finished outside the medal places. His problem which achieving that goal is that, throughout March and April, he has been unable to make up any ground on the manager in third place, instead falling twelve points further behind that man over the last two months. This gameweek, though, he has closed the gap by eight points, with Rudiger, Struijk, Iheanacho and captain Salah the heroes, leaving the Juggernauts on 2,000 points exactly. With an extra 29 points to find in the final five gameweeks, maintaining the performance of this week will see the Rap Rob Roy achieve the bronze medal that represents the bare minimum to him.
The Title Contenders
The man Jeeves is hunting down now is Grinchy Vogt, with Ginger Ben having now slipped to fourth place. It's a devastating drop for a man who was in the title picture even just a few weeks ago, yet who now faces the heartbreak of ending the season with only the Eliminator title to show for his hard work. Faced with the prospect of having just seven players, The Eliminator took the gamble of a sixteen-point hit, affording him the comfort of a substitute. Disastrously, that substitute outscored seven members of his starting eleven, including four of his new signings. Indeed, despite all five of his transferred-out players scoring zero points, his new signings only just outscored the hit, bringing in seventeen points between all five. Though captain Salah's score was ultimately doubled, Jez Messing can reveal the armband was originally on Iheanacho before a late transfer splurge. Had Ginger Ben gone into the gameweek with his original seven players, he would've outscored his eleven-man total by seven points, which would've been enough to keep him in the bronze medal place. All in all, it was a bit of a disaster for the Eliminator.
Not so for Grinchy Vogt, despite his own transfer folly of taking a hit for an eventual zero-point score and leaving Dallas' clean sheet on the bench. The Grinch actually only had three players that secured returns; lucky for him, those three players brought in 35 points between them, enabling a quiet and disappointing week to be remembered as a success. At 52 points behind The Butcher, it seems the bronze medal is the limit of the Grinch's growth potential this season; while such a huge swing is not impossible in five gameweeks, it is somewhat unlikely. That forces the Grinch to focus on defending his position, a new challenge for the man who has resurrected his season from the depths of nineteenth at Christmas. With Ginger Ben just a point behind and Jockin' Jeeves building momentum, it will be a tough challenge, one that will leave us with some true perspective of Vogt's growth as a manager.
Destined for the silver medal for a second-successive season is The Butcher, who played his Wildcard two weeks too late and then got his team selection horribly wrong. Starting Jota and Coady over Pereira and Dallas cost the Butcher fifteen crucial points, while the signing of a striker who had scored just two goals in fifteen gameweeks predictably proved a mistake. It's just not meant to be for Big Steve, though he deserves credit for taking a chance on his captaincy and seeing Iheanacho reward that courage with 24 points. Had Salah not scored a world-class goal, and had Pereira and Dallas started, we'd be sat here discussing how The Butcher had made up 22 points on the Dragon in a single gameweek, and how the dream was still alive, which shows the fine margins at work at the elite end of the League of Gentlemen.
The Man Who Would Be King
Thanos is inevitable, and so is the Dragon's title win. For him to lose from here, eighty points clear with five gameweeks to go, would be an unprecedented turnaround and would take a collapse of Jean van de Velde proportions. Given the consistency and clear-mindedness the Dragon has demonstrated this season, it just isn't going to happen. Returns from Meslier, Shaw and Christensen complemented the hauls of captain Salah and Iheanacho to keep the Dragon on-course for the League of Gentlemen's record points total; with 210 points required to surpass King Ding's score and five gameweeks - including a double-gameweek still to be announced - to come, the Dragon needs an average gameweek score of just 42 points for history. He also remains in the hunt for the elusive top-10k global finish, though his chances of achieving that - and of surpassing the King's record OR of 7,044 - will depend on how well he navigates the impending blank and double gameweek still to be announced. These records are just the icing on the cake; becoming the man to dethrone the King is the real achievement, and it will take Big Steve unlocking the secret to time-travel to stop him.
That concludes our round-up of Gameweek Thirty-Three, which saw the Gentlemen's Trophy semi-finals remain in the balance, which saw Ginger Ben fall out of the medal places, and which took the Dragon one step closer to history. Ahead of Gameweek Thirty-Four, 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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