In another double-gameweek that flattered to deceive, some Gentlemen were able to make huge gains. Meanwhile, the Gentlemen's Trophy got under way, with some big shocks on the cards.
Two gameweeks to go.
Not until the end of the season, no. Two gameweeks until the only international break FPL managers have ever looked forward to. Two gameweeks until a fortnight free from this seemingly-incessant mental challenge, until a chance to forget the game for a while, until an opportunity to recharge our batteries ahead of what promises to be a sensational finale to the season. After nineteen months of constant high-intensity FPL, with barely a break between seasons and with the gameweeks coming thicker and faster than ever, with blanks and doubles flying at us from all angles and the constant deliberations and contemplations of the machinations of the situations, the fatigue is setting in for FPL managers across the globe.
For the competitors in the World's Greatest Mini-League, this effect is tenfold. In no other division in the world is every decision scrutinised and analysed to such extent. In no other FPL competition are the weekly outcomes, the successes and the oh-so-many failures, documented and published for the world to see. Entering the League of Gentlemen means joining a battle that tests every aspect of your mental acuity at a previously-unimaginable level, and after such a prolonged spell of psychological warfare, the casualties are mounting. King Ding, the four-time and current defending back-to-back champion, is unable to break into the top ten. Three of last year's top four wallow in the Irrelevants, with the fourth sabotaging his season every other week with transfer moves that serve only to destroy his chances. Last season, nearly half the division secured a highest-ever overall ranking, including nine of the top ten. This season, none of them are on course to match it, never mind improve. The hits keep coming, the points go begging, and the chances of success fall with every drained decision that is made.
That is, with the exception of one man. The Dragon continues to soar, pulling away at the top of the league this week and establishing a 48-point cushion that could yet prove decisive. While it being his first year in the pressure-cooker of the League of Gentlemen has played a part in his ascension, to put it all down to the fatigue of his rivals would be to dismiss the masterclass the Dragon is exhibiting for us all. Sixteen of his last nineteen weeks have been spent in the top-100k, a consistency that is causing his rivals to crack and is forcing mistakes on tired minds, all while he raises his game to a standard unmatched in his FPL history. Iron sharpens iron, and the Dragon is the sharpest of all.
Two gameweeks to go. Two gameweeks for the Dragon, the freshest of all the Gentlemen, to exert his will and turn the screw. One of those gameweeks, Blank Gameweek Twenty-Nine, he has prepared expertly to navigate through without a Free Hit, ready to Wildcard coming out of it for the run-in. Such a position of strength ... such potential for an FPL Nightmare of the highest magnitude. If he gets it wrong, if he changes too much and upsets the balance, it could be nine slow gameweeks of death by a thousand missed chances. If Ginger Ben withstands the storm for two more gameweeks, the man they call the Eliminator could assassinate his ultimate target. If Jockin' Jeeves can keep that fabled Juggernaut momentum building, if he can avoid the self-sabotage, it could be the Dragon facing the most devastating derailing. If Big Steve, with three chips left to play, can utilise them at the right time, the Butcher could carve his name in the trophy he was so cruelly denied last season.
So many ifs, so many maybes, so many possibilities. Two gameweeks to go, then the challengers will be refreshed, and we'll find out just how high the Dragon can soar when the rekindled fires of the Gentlemen begin to roar.
The Cup Chronicles
The Gentlemen's Trophy kicked-off this week, with the first leg of the Round One matches taking place. Given the nature of the gameweek, the nine Gentlemen that received byes to Round Two will be feeling very grateful, especially given how several lower-ranked teams scored highly this week. Mack Daddy McMahon, an easy draw on paper, proved this point in stunning fashion, marking his debut in the competition with a 92 - 42 victory to give Metal Marc a fifty-point mountain to climb. The big shock of the round could be the early exit of the Butcher, with Wooden Spoon Helling holding an 85 - 54 advantage. The Butcher has been in this position before, however, and gone on to make the final, so he cannot be counted out. Other lower-ranked managers taking an advantage into the second leg are The Ox, Iceman Newton, Hitman Hodgson and Maverick Mikey, with Dan the Dragon being the only manager not in the Irrelevants to win. His victory came in the tie of the round against Grinchy Vogt, and he holds a strong advantage going into the second leg. If we're to have any glorious comebacks, they will have to be spectacular, because every first-leg winner holds a double-figures lead. What the losers need to remember is, if they can lose by so much in one gameweek, then there’s nothing stopping them winning by the same amount in the next.
Gentlemen's Trophy: Round One, First Leg scores:
The League of Gentlemen:
Private Parvesh's mission to avoid last place took another step forward this week, with his 65 points taking him much closer to Metal Marc and Wildman Whitfield. His 1,254 points are still 137 behind Metal Marc and 149 away from the Wildman, but the gap is closing rapidly. Wooden Spoon Helling's remarkable 85 points moved him out of immediate bottom-spot threat, while also closing the gap on four-hit-taking Maverick Mikey, now just nineteen points ahead on 1,429, having been overtaken by Mack Daddy McMahon's stunning 92-pointer. Having more than doubled eighteenth-place Big-Time Birkett's score, the Mack Daddy is now just one point off Birkett's 1,435 points, though Who Horner is a further 54 points away.
At that point, the Irrelevants almost splits in two, with everyone from sixteenth up still harbouring ambitions of finishing in the top twelve, with twelfth the cut-off point for automatic qualification into next season's Gentlemen's Classic. The Masterchef took a big step towards getting back in the fight with a 90-point week that took him to 1,541 points, just four off Iceman Newton in fifteenth, and had he played Meslier over Fabianski and Bruno over Ings, Bamford or Raphinha, he would've been even higher and in the Hundred Club. He also closed the gap to Deadly Daz in fourteenth to 22 points, with the falling King Ding, who scored just 44 points this week, a further 15 points away. The man in twelfth place right now, The Ox, climbed into that spot following a strong 88-point week, but he remains only four points ahead of King Ding, with Slick Rick just one point ahead in eleventh. A 28-point gap emerges to Hitman Hodgson, in tenth on 1,611 points, with Sirloin Sean, who fell back into the Irrelevants, just four points ahead, with both men looking comfortable for Gentlemen's Classic qualification right now and able to focus on reaching the Chasing Pack.
The Chasing Pack
A return to the Chasing Pack for Lord Geord, despite his gamble of benching Bruno backfiring and his two Manchester City defenders getting three points combined from two games. His gamble on Pereira continues to reap no dividends, though Alonso secured a return this week, and his captaincy of Gundogan was saved with a goal from Gundogan's only penalty-box touch of the gameweek. Kane's huge nineteen-point haul was the big saving grace, though the feeling of disappointment lingers despite climbing the table, especially as he dropped out of the top million in the overall rankings. The six-point lead over the Irrelevants offers no comfort, and he is now 56 points off the Title Contenders. The first priority is catching Red Hot Rob, who moved sixteen points clear on 1,637 points. He did not fall into the benching Bruno trap, but did waste his captaincy by giving it to a woefully out-of-form Salah. Hauls from Cresswell, Gundogan and Kane mitigated the damage of the captaincy error, and the two free transfers available for the coming gameweek give Red Hot Rob the opportunity to make some effective changes. Both men managed to make up ground on the other two Gentlemen in the Chasing Pack, which is a positive, but both will see Gameweek Twenty-Seven as another wasted opportunity.
Big Steve and Flash continue to cling to each other, with their totals for the last five gameweeks just a point different and with their scores this week identical. It's a situation that does not favour the Butcher, who is a place lower in the table due to making more transfers. Gundogan and Bruno both barely hauled this week, while Martinez and Son provided his only other returns. Frustratingly for the Butcher, his highest-scoring player, Shaw, was his third-choice substitute, though the captaincy of Gundogan helped prevent the gameweek being a total washout. For Flash, it was an almost-identical story, with captain Gundogan, Bruno and Son bagging the extra points. The only difference was Coufal being the fourth player to secure a return, rather than Martinez. Flash also had his Manchester United defender as last-substitute, although Wan-Bissaka's score was much lower than Shaw's. A tough week for both managers, who both drop a place in the table and lose ground on first place.
The Title Contenders
A long-awaited return to the Title Contenders for Jockin' Jeeves, who is now within a hundred points of top spot and starting to show hints of the fabled Juggernaut momentum that tends to kick into overdrive in the final ten weeks of the season. His 78 points were secured through returns from Martinez and Son and hauls from Gundogan, Kane and captain de Bruyne, who bagged 61 points between them. Yet, with just a point between him and the two teams behind him and with third place just a point away, Jeeves will be frustrated at knowing his transfer policy has hindered him yet again. This week, only one hit was taken, yet that hit was taken to replace the injured Barnes and ten-point Bruno with the signings of one-point Mount and five-points Son, producing a total transfer score of minus-eight points. Those eight points, along with the surprise benching of six-point Coufal in place of zero-points Digne, cost him a crucial fourteen points and, with each gameweek that goes by, those lost points become harder to find. Still outside the top-500k overall, Jeeves needs to start making gains fast if he is to avoid his worst finish for seven years and, more pertinently, if he is to become the man to ultimately dethrone his great rival, King Ding.
A point ahead in third is Grinchy Vogt yet, unlike Jockin' Jeeves, momentum is well and truly moving away from the Grinch. The returns of Martinez and Son supported the hauls of Kane and captain Gundogan, but his bizarre decision to go for a second-successive twelve-point hit meant he only just reached a half-century of points, and completely shattered the aura he'd built up since Boxing Day. Whereas Grinchy Vogt previously seemed in control and unflappable, 36 points surrendered to hits in four gameweeks now reveals a man in a state of panic, thrown off-course by teams playing twice and ripping up what was a very strong team in the chase for quick points. Whatever strategy Vogt has embarked upon, he needs to rip it up fast, because what could've been the greatest comeback of all time is on the verge of being remembered only as an interesting mid-season quirk.
However bad this week was for Grinchy Vogt, it pales in comparison to the FPL Nightmare suffered by The Eliminator, Ginger Ben. Indeed, it was his own title hopes that took a step closer to elimination, with only captain Son and Bruno securing any extra points at all. Six players scoring two points and three players scoring one meant his gameweek ending with just 31 points, meaning a three-point gap to the top became 48 points. These blank and double gameweeks were always going to be tough for the Ginger One, having used his chips early in the season, yet even the worst-case hypotheses couldn't have foreseen such a collapse. The biggest victim of Manchester City's Merry-Go-Round of Misery, his three Manchester City assets secured just five points combined from six games, leaving the Eliminator ruing his decision to gamble on Sterling several weeks ago. Had he opted for Gundogan over Sterling in Gameweek 20 and captained him every week, he would be 60 points better off right now, and still top of the table. Sometimes, when looking for a cutting edge, it's our own hopes we leave shredded. Ginger Ben needs to find an answer this week, with the replacement of Sterling his number-one priority.
The Man Who Would Be King
While the panic sets in beneath him, while the Gentlemen gamble on transfer hits and desperately cling to his tail, the Dragon soars ever higher. Now 48 points clear at the top with a points total of 1,776, the Dragon is defying expectations in his debut season and getting stronger as the gameweeks progress. His only mistake this week was benching Shaw for Dallas, and even with that thirteen-point blow, he still ends the week stronger than anyone. His only signing was Konsa, who not only secured a return, but also leaves him with eight players who play in Blank Gameweek Twenty-Nine with two free transfers to go. Such is the strength of his position, he could even take the gamble on bringing in the high-risk, high-reward Bale for Salah, whereas his rivals may have to settle for a less injury-prone but less effective alternative. Such a move would give him real strength for Gameweek Twenty-Nine, though with another gameweek to play before then, he'd be shrewder to replace Calvert-Lewin with Antonio this week, which the smart money suggests he will. Up to 69,412 in the world, he is thriving in the intensity of the League of Gentlemen when many of his rivals are burning out, the effects of two almost-consecutive seasons taking their toll. Nobody would've predicted the Dragon to end the King's reign at the start of the campaign; now, nobody - with the exception of the notoriously-confident Jockin' Jeeves - would bet against the Dragon becoming the third active manager to win the division. Simply sensational.
That concludes our round-up of Gameweek Twenty-Seven, one which saw the Gentlemen's Trophy get under way, which saw Ginger Ben fall apart at the worst possible time, and which saw the Dragon take a huge step closer to glory. Ahead of the Friday deadline, 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.