As Lord Geord closes the gap to top spot again, can he start to believe that his FPL Nightmare will end with the ultimate dream finale?
As the gameweeks go by, this season's chronicles become ever harder to write. The problem is one I never anticipated: I appear to have learnt my lesson, and I am starting to put together a run of form that could be sustainable. It leaves me in somewhat of a quandary of how to approach these journals, in order to maximise my chances of successfully completing the King's Quest, and emerging from my FPL Nightmare as the champion of the League of Gentlemen.
Part of me wants to indulge in the Grinch's Gambit. I see myself in second place, just twelve points off the top after twelve gameweeks, and I consider whether I should become brash and cocky. I contemplate taunting my rivals by proudly declaring it is a matter of time before I top the table, denouncing the historical record of the Chancellor and implying he will struggle to maintain his form in the coming gameweeks, and anointing myself as the real man to beat to the Gentlemen behind me. I know this approach has its merits, and that proclaiming something aloud can turn the fantasy into reality, and I think, 'go for it, lad. Get them told. Believe in your ability and use that belief as a weapon.' Then I look at where the Grinch is now. Eighth and falling. 24 points-worth of hits in three gameweeks since his disastrous call to bet against Salah in the gameweek he hit 24 points. His Triple Captain chip gone, all benefits from it lost in a wave of hubris and happenstance. The Grinch isn't brash and cocky anymore. Indeed, he barely says boo to a goose nowadays, preferring instead to try and convince himself that the next reshaping of his squad will be the one that saves his season. There's a fine line between prophecy and parody, and it's not one I feel comfortable straddling.
Another part of me wants to focus on how my season is invoking the spirit of the previous two winners of the League of Gentlemen, to insinuate I have somehow found the magic formula that will take me all the way to the most dramatic of conclusions to the trilogy. Two years ago, King Ding kept his cool in the transfer market, waiting until deadline day each gameweek to make his transfers and refusing to take hits. Price fluctuations between gameweeks sometimes left him unavailable to sign the players he wanted, but he turned that into a positive, constraining his choices and making it easier for him to decide. By taking hits out of the equation, it simplified the game, resulting in his sensational come-from-behind victory where he overturned a 119-point deficit. I have walked the King's Road this season, and so far, it has resulted in my best campaign ever. Last season, the Dragon made no great waves early on, almost flying under the radar as he rose, then consolidated, and then climbed again before cementing his new position. The Way of the Dragon took him into a first-place he was never going to relinquish, despite it taking him until Gameweek 26 to top the table. I, too, have had a steady progression through the ranks, and Gameweek Twelve marks my third-successive gameweek in second place, with the gap to the Chancellor closed even further. The parallels may appear to be there, but I am not keen to draw on them, given the King's Road diverted to eleventh place last season and the Way of the Dragon has currently led only to seventh place, highlighting that each season is different and there is no strategy to guarantee FPL success.
A third part of me wants to downplay my early success completely, dismissing it all as luck so as to ease the pressure and protect myself from the hurt of failure should I fail to be a success. I find myself wondering if this is the best approach, not just for my chances of success, but for my mental health, and to keep my stress levels down. Then I look at Ginger Ben last season. Top of the table for two-thirds of the campaign, yet never once believing he could win it. So much did he dismiss his own chances that he talked himself out of any success, convincing himself to take wild risks before falling out of contention. Whether he could've won the title with the courage of his conviction, we'll never know. The Ginger One is up to third after Gameweek Twelve, right behind me. If he believes in himself this season, he will be a real threat to the fairytale finish. There's no reason he shouldn't, especially when the two men behind him, Go Cartin and Jockin' Jeeves, both envision themselves as champion. If those men have confidence in their ability, then I need to show the same. The only thing scarier than failure is success, and this is my last chance to face my fear.
With brashness, history and self-deprecation ruled out as options, and my being the chronicler making the silent approach unavailable, I'm left with only one avenue to take. When I find myself in times of trouble, Kevin Keegan comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, 'dare to dream.' I am just twelve points off top spot, with the transfer tiebreaker advantage and a Bench Boost in hand. Had I started Rudiger over Mbeumo, I would be top right now. That's how close the Lords came to topping the table for the first time ever. I've cut the gap on the Chancellor two gameweeks running. I identified the failings of last season in the epilogue of The FPL Nightmare II: The Crying, the Hits and the VAR Probe, I came up with a strategy, and by sticking to that strategy, I'm as close as I've ever been. My highest-ever final overall ranking is 252k; I've bettered that for the last ten consecutive gameweeks. Objectively, I have a good chance of a great season. Thirty-nine of my rivals would swap positions with me right now, and I - the current Chipmaster - have a chip advantage on the fortieth. Were I describing anyone else in my position, I'd be saying they were turning the screw on the Chancellor, and they have the momentum. I cannot speak with such certainty for myself, but it's time to start dreaming. This is my last chance to make those dreams a reality, and end my FPL Nightmare. I can do this.
The Cup Chronicles
The tough start to Stage Two of the Gentlemen's Classic continues for Sirloin Sean and The Ox, with both managers finding their rump well-done so far. Matchday Eight brought defeats for both Gentlemen of twenty-plus points, with Jockin' Jeeves dismantling Sirloin 77-57 and The Ox thrashed by Ginger Ben to the tune of 23 points. It leaves them bottom of their respective groups, both still searching for their first point as they adjust to the increase in standards. Group A's other match saw a tight affair between Big Steve and the Dragon end with a narrow victory for the reigning league champion, with his choice of Alexander-Arnold over the Butcher's James securing the three extra points that turned defeat into victory. In Group B's second game, the current Classic holder was stunned when Red Hot Rob played his Wildcard, with the element of surprise crucial in seeing the Hitman suffer a thirteen-point defeat. It's the Dragon and Ginger Ben who top the groups after the opening two games, but with two teams advancing from each, there is still everything to play for in the race for the semi-final places.
Gentlemen's Classic results, Matchday Eight:
Big Steve 61 - 63 Dan the Dragon
Sirloin Sean 57 - 77 Jockin' Jeeves
Ginger Ben 83 - 60 The Ox
Hitman Hodgson 63 -76 Red Hot Rob
It was an annihilation for Stone Cold Stephen Levins in the Eliminator, with his final total of thirty points seeing him fall 23 short of safety. He is joined in his departure from the competition by the Masterchef, who fell two points short of surviving for another gameweek, after Uncaged Bage saw Tsimikas rise from his bench with six points to save his bacon. Half of the Gentlemen in the competition have now found themselves Eliminated; as the field becomes ever smaller, there is no margin for error. When 51 points isn’t enough to keep you in the competition, you know you need to be at your best to have any chance of surviving the toughest endurance test in all of FPL.
The disastrous thirty-point score of Stone Cold Stephen Levins saw him crash and burn this gameweek, with a huge fall to 33rd place. Private Parvesh, Mack Daddy McMahon and Wildman Whitfield all smashed home eighty-plus points to climb the table, while Deadly Daz's recovery continues, with his 72 points seeing him up to 21st, one place ahead of his daughter, Daredevil Daisy, whose prolonged avoidance of captaining Salah has cost her dearly. King Ding and Red Hot Rob both Wildcarded for 76 points and improved position, a sharp contrast to Big-Time Birkett, whose Wildcard squad scored just 57 points after declining to sign big-hitters Alexander-Arnold, Chilwell and Cancelo, a decision which saw him fall in the rankings and will surely haunt him. Iceman Newton, Terminator Tris and Ash the Bash continue to look threatening, but it's Hitman Hodgson who remains top of the Irrelevants, with the gap to the Elite having shrunk by four points this gameweek.
The travails of Grinchy Vogt continue, with his eight-point penalty meaning he ended with the joint-lowest gameweek score of the top 21 managers. He has an eighteen-point cushion over Hitman Hodgson and the Irrelevants, but few would bet against that being even smaller come the transfer deadline. The Dragon climbs four points ahead in seventh, with a twenty-point gap to the falling Mighty Mouse ahead of him. Jockin' Jeeves remains in fifth place, with Go Cartin climbing two spots into fourth, but the Rap Rob Roy will have eyes only on top spot, to which he cut the gap from 45 points to 38. Ginger Ben has moved into third place, showing signs of having learnt from last season's collapse, establishing an eight-point cushion over Go Cartin and cutting his own distance to top spot to 28 points. My cushion over third place dropped by a point this gameweek, but crucially, I hacked nine points off the Chancellor's lead. I'm now just twelve points off the top, and I'm ruing leaving Rudiger on the bench. At least I have my Bench Boost in hand.
The Man Who Would Be King
A fourth gameweek at the top for the Chancellor, who will be grateful to retain his position having seen Rudiger left on my bench and Son fail to fire when Hellier had no players remaining. The absence of Dias was a major blow, with one-point Broja replacing him, and with Dias's place no longer guaranteed, Hellier has a decision to make over whether to retain his services. It's a decision complicated by injuries to Chilwell and Gray, while the continued underperformance of his front three is another concern. With two Southampton players to play the rampant Liverpool in Gameweek Thirteen, there is real intrigue over how he approaches the transfer market; with so many targets on his back, he may well have to risk a transfer hit to avoid the four men behind him clawing the gap back yet again. It's a huge call he will have to make, and he will be praying the FPL Gods don't make it unlucky Gameweek Thirteen next time out.
That concludes our round-up of Gameweek Twelve, which saw the Grinch slide further down Mount Crumpet, which saw Ginger Ben move into third and which saw the Chancellor's position at the top become more vulnerable. Ahead of Gameweek Thirteen, may all your transfers be successes, may all your arrows be green, and may the FPL Gods be in your favour.
Gentlemen's Classic fixtures, Gameweek Thirteen:
Big Steve vs Sirloin Sean
Dan the Dragon vs Jockin' Jeeves
Ginger Ben vs Hitman Hodgson
Red Hot Rob vs The Ox
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All Lawes wants is to win The League of Gentlemen, yet the FPL Gods are bastards that conspire against him.
This column provides weekly updates of Lawes' dismal attempts to best his rivals.