In a low-scoring Blank Gameweek, the Free Hitters took full advantage, while those who had failed to plan paid the price. One man only scored five points, leaving his Gentlemen's Trophy dreams in tatters.
The final major Blank Gameweek of the season always promised to be a low-scoring one, and so it proved, with the highest score of the gameweek being just 68 points. It was a week where owning the obvious was a great advantage, with no upset results and all the expected returners bringing in the points. Those who chanced their hand with differentials were left to rue their error, while those who play the percentages saw their approach pay off.
Particularly pertinent to the title race was the second-highest scorer of the gameweek, Big Steve, using his Free Hit effectively to close the gap on the Dragon by eleven points. Any idea of the title run-in being a procession has been eradicated, with the Butcher's 66-point total reducing the deficit to just 59 points - a lead you would want to have, but one that requires an average gain of just seven points a gameweek to overhaul. With both the Butcher and the Dragon having their Wildcards still to play, how and when they are used will prove critical to determining who sits on the throne come season's end. With Ginger Ben having clung onto second place during these difficult recent weeks, his own chances of achieving the most unlikely of successes have gone up drastically, though he will require some luck and some poor Wildcards from his rivals.
Further down the table, King Ding laid a marker for next season by smashing in the highest score of the gameweek, moving into the top ten for the first time in many weeks and reminding everyone that his skills remain intact, even if he has suffered the most from the many changes to the standard FPL season this year. While it is too late for him to launch a title charge, the King is showing that, come next season, he will be ready to challenge for what would be his fifth league title. His displacing of Lord Geord in the top ten leaves the Lord's hopes of Gentlemen's Classic qualification in the balance; his poor run of transfer decisions and form has left him just eleven points clear of thirteenth, and he needs to find some answers quick before his entire season proves a washout, with Slick Rick and the Ox ready to pounce on any further mistakes.
The international break gives the Gentlemen some welcome respite from the intensity of the competition; with nine gameweeks to be played in quick succession upon FPL's resumption, they need to use this opportunity to refresh, rethink and recalibrate ahead of a crucial run-in. So much hangs in the balance, both in the league title race, the Gentlemen's Trophy and beyond. It's been a tough season so far, but in reality, we're only just beginning. This final quarter of the campaign promises to be one of the most intriguing finales to a season the League of Gentlemen has ever produced, one that guarantees a first-time champion will be crowned. What a prospect it promises to be.
The Cup Chronicles
Round Two of the Gentlemen's Trophy began in earnest this week, and it was a true FPL Nightmare for Big-Time Birkett, who saw just one player take the field and only 5 (five) points scored. Amazingly, his deficit heading into the second leg is not the lowest in the competition, with his 22-point reversal exceeded by Iceman Newton and Deadly Daz, both of whom start the second leg thirty points behind. Some ties remain poised on a knife-edge, with Flash Funk two points ahead of the Hitman and Jockin' Jeeves holding a three-point advantage over the Masterchef, while title-chasers Big Steve and Dan the Dragon hold small, yet significant advantages over The Ox and Mack Daddy McMahon respectively. It sets us up nicely for what promises to be a second-leg filled with the sort of swings, near-misses and last-ditch heroics only the Gentlemen's Trophy can provide.
Gentlemen's Trophy, Round Two, First Leg scores
The League of Gentlemen:
A missed opportunity for Private Parvesh, who captained zero-point Cresswell and finished with just sixteen points. It meant Wildman Whitfield moved three points further ahead, extending the gap to last place to 140 points, while also closing the gap to Wooden Spoon Helling to just five points. Rising above Helling this week was Metal Marc, whose thirty points saw him move thirteen clear on 1,475 points, while also closing the gap to Maverick Mikey to thirteen. The Maverick - and everyone behind him - all managed to gain ground on Big-Time Birkett, who scored just five measly points, underlining just how much this is a season to forget for him. Taking full advantage was Mack Daddy McMahon, who Free Hit his way to 47 points and a 44-point cushion over Big-Time. Sadly, his total of 1,535 points is 57 behind Who Horner, meaning further advancement in the table could prove difficult. Twenty points ahead of Horner is Iceman Newton, while the Masterchef keeps his hopes of Classic qualification alive with a 42-point week.
The problem for the Masterchef is, while he cut the gap to Deadly Daz to just eight points, the chasers above him moved further away. The Ox's 1,674 points keep the Masterchef 35 points behind while establishing a gap of 27 points over the Dazzler, though Slick Rick's Free Hit equalled the Ox's score, keeping him two points ahead in that crucial twelfth place. All four of those Gentlemen will be buoyed by the continuing struggles of Lord Geord, who dropped another place to eleventh and has seen his advantage decimated in recent weeks. Only eleven points now separate him from The Ox in thirteenth, with King Ding's division-high 68 points moving him into the top ten, seven points ahead of the Lord. The King is now just six points off ninth-place Hitman Hodgson, who ends the gameweek on 1,698 points, just four away from the Chasing Pack.
The Chasing Pack
A rough gameweek for Sirloin Sean, whose lack of forward-planning forced him to take a 24-point hit to field a full team. It was a decision that left him with a net-gain of 21 points, so it was a gamble that ultimately paid off, though his logic at bringing in defenders who were playing his attackers leaves a lot to be desired. His four defenders produced just three points between them, and you have to question why, with confidence enough in Brighton's clean sheet capabilities to bring in Sanchez, he didn't consider a second or even third Brighton defender instead of his striker's opponents. Taking advantage of Sirloin's hits to extend his lead was Red Hot Rob, who moved 23 points clear on 1,725 points following a 43-point gameweek. The replacement of Gundogan with Raphinha paid off, with the Leeds man securing eight points, with further returns from Soucek and captain Kane and a haul from Bamford. The problem for Red Hot Rob is that captain Kane and Bamford were highly-owned, with four of the managers above him owning both and the other two owning one, as well as another player who hauled, so those scores were rendered almost irrelevant. Indeed, every Gentleman above him scored higher this gameweek, meaning Red Hot Rob's performance proved to be one of damage limitation only.
Moving just two points further ahead, establishing a gap of 32 points, was Jockin' Jeeves. Bringing in Bale, Lingard and Veltman for a four-point hit proved effective, with 22 points scored from those players. There will be a sense of frustration surrounding the signing of Bale, though, who cost four points and did not feature, and also came in at the expense of Gundogan, who has been so effective this season. The Rap Rob Roy will be hoping that decision doesn't come back to haunt him in the coming weeks, and could even be reversed ahead of the next gameweek. It meant the gap to Flash Funk's 1,777 points increased to twenty points, with the Funkmaster seeing 54 points come in this week through returns from Lloris, Soucek and captain Kane and hauls from Bamford and Trossard. The decision to bring in Bale for Son proved ineffective, though refusing to take a hit and starting with just nine players was a gamble that paid off, with his squad primed to attack the next gameweek with some good fixtures for his big names. There is still a slim hope of the title for Flash, though the 105-point gap to top means he has to perform at an exceptional standard over the last nine weeks. A tall ask, but if he can make some inroads next time out, it will keep the outside chance of a miracle alive.
The Title Contenders
Moving eight points clear of Flash Funk is Grinchy Vogt, who now lies 97 points off top spot and also needs an outstanding run of form to have a chance of title glory. The four-point hit taken to bring in Bamford and Lingard paid off in stunning fashion, with a nineteen-point net gain from his transfer dealings keeping him in the hunt. The new boys and Veltman all hauled, while Raphinha and captain Kane also secured returns to give the Grinch a gameweek total of 56 points. Still, it's another gameweek with no ground being made on top, and with the teams above him moving further away. He needs to make up eleven points per week on the Dragon, a tall order at the best of times, but with only a Free Hit available, it becomes an almost-impossible task. The Grinch will keep fighting, but his awful start to the season looks to have cost him his chance of glory.
One man with his fantasies still very much within the realms of reality is the Butcher, who used his Free Hit effectively to record the second-highest score of the gameweek and narrow the gap to the title to 59 points. Hauls from Lingard and Bamford were supplemented with returns from captain Kane, Dunk, Raphinha and Maupay, which gave a final score of 66 points but one that is very much a missed opportunity. Selecting Dubravka in goal and Maupay up-front meant, barring a penalty save, Big Steve's points ceiling was lowered unnecessarily; bringing in Sanchez in goal or Veltman instead of Lascelles would've given the big man even more points. It was a similar story with owning an Arsenal attacker and a West Ham defender, with the result there being that those two players scored just two points combined, the worst-case scenario. Still, in a gameweek of slim pickings, there was a logic to minimising his risk, and it resulted in his title aspirations remaining well on-track.
Still clinging on to second place, nine points ahead of the Butcher on 1,832, is Ginger Ben. Given he entered this run of blanks and doubles without his Free Hit or Wildcard, the Eliminator has done well to keep in touch with top spot, and will be delighted to emerge from Gameweek Twenty-Nine still in second place, with just a half-century of points to make up. Amazingly, he managed to achieve his 53 points this week with just eight players on the field, four of whom scored two points or less. Returns from captain Raphinha and Lloris were enhanced by the hauls of Bamford and Trossard, with the latter bringing particular delight to the Mackem Messiah given it was at Newcastle's expense. With this six-week run of damage limitation over, the Eliminator can now shift back into an attacking mindset, as he launches one final push to end only his second season of FPL with title glory. With three Manchester City players in his ranks, he will have to be mindful of the blanks in Gameweek 32 and 33, and plan his transfers accordingly, but he is in a good position and, should the Butcher and the Dragon mess up their Wildcards, his season could well end with an ascension to the throne.
The Man Who Would Be King
Still standing tall and now with an enhanced lead is the Dragon, who looks increasingly like becoming the first-ever debutant to emerge as League of Gentlemen champion. His hit to bring in the West Ham trio of Lingard, Antonio and Cresswell paid off to the tune of fifteen points, though sticking to the two attackers would've secured four extra points. Lookman, captain Kane, Bamford and Dunk were his other points-scorers, giving him a final gameweek score of 55 points. What's particularly interesting about his squad as we enter the international break is that it now contains zero Manchester City players; whether he pivots back to one for Gameweek Thirty remains to be seen, but a gamble to avoid Piss-Taker Pep's Merry-Go-Round of Misery could result in a huge advantage over his rivals, especially given Guardiola's suggestion he will be kicking his rotation policy into overdrive in the coming weeks, as Manchester City continue to compete on four fronts. It's the sort of gamble you can take from a position of strength, knowing that, if it backfires, it can be corrected in one or two transfers. Those chasing the Dragon simply cannot afford such luxuries, and that could prove the defining factor in the season. Of course, with a Wildcard still to play, the Dragon retains a get-out-of-jail free card; given the standard of his management this season, he may not even need to use it to seal a sensational title triumph.
That concludes our round-up of Blank Gameweek Twenty-Nine, which saw Big-Time flatline, which saw the Butcher close the gap to the top further, and which saw the Dragon move one step closer to glory. With an international break giving us some breathing space and some time to reflect, Gameweek Thirty promises some rejuvenated Gentlemen with some points to prove, one that will surely see some huge scores. As always, may all your transfers be successes, may all your arrows be green, and may the FPL Gods forever be in your favour.
'The FPL Nightmare: How to Lose the World's Greatest Mini-League in 38 Simple Steps'
Available now on Amazon.