A blank gameweek can be as season-defining as a double. While the two at the top of the League of Gentlemen pulled further away, the chasing pack are left cursing the mistakes they've made.
Everyone knows that a double gameweek can turn a season on its head, but a blank gameweek offers that same opportunity. In the League of Gentlemen, the blank gameweek proved even more pivotal than double gameweek 32. For some, blank gameweek 33 cemented and strengthened their position. For other managers, and I’m sure you can guess who, this last weekend devastated their hopes and dreams.
At the top of the table, Dinga and Jeeves widened the gap over Flash in third to a surely-insurmountable difference. Flash’s team BolyBogleBong returned a respectable total of 50 points, 14 points above the overall weekly average. However, BolyBogleBong’s total was severely hampered by the massive 16-point hit Flash took in order to field a full team. Following the use of his Free Hit in GW 31, Flash ended GW 32 with only seven players eligible for GW 33, two of which were goalkeepers. Flash brought in five new players, bringing in Higuain, Fraser, King, Pereira and Hazard. Those players returned a points total of 28, with Hazard alone wiping out the transfer deficit with a 16-point haul. However, Flash made two big mistakes. The first was captaining Mane, who returned a single point, over Hazard. The second was not stopping at Pereira and Hazard for Sterling and Doherty. Had those been the only two transfers made, and had Hazard been Flash’s captain, Flash would have ended the week with an overall total of 56 points, rather than 34. While it may not have made too much difference to the title picture, those decisions could yet cost Flash a third-place finish at the end of the season. Mind, it’s easy to say that now. We’re all great managers in hindsight.
Behind Flash, Who Horner took a brave and honourable approach, sticking with his no-hits policy, making only one transfer and fielding a team of just six players. Despite this, Who Horner matched Flash’s score, posting a 34-point return. The sad thing is, Who Horner’s respectable return could have been so much better, but for the poor captaincy choice of Robertson, who returned one point. His decision to make the non-playing Kane vice-captain suggests that Who Horner didn’t put enough thought into his captain choices. Had he captained Vardy, he’d be only two points off third-place Flash right now. Still, it’s easy to be a great FPL manager in hindsight.
In fifth place, Big Steve took a four-point hit, replacing Pogba and Lindelof with Mustafi and Ozil and fielding a nine-man team. Unfortunately for Big Steve, his transfers yielded a net return of minus-five points, and his weekly total of 28 meant the gap to Who Horner in fourth increased. With both Who Horner and Big Steve only having their Triple Captain remaining, the battle between the two could be settled by who each manager gives the triple-armband to, especially if Big Steve deploys it on the right man in double gameweek 35 and if Who Horner makes another captaincy blunder like this week. At 41 points behind Flash, third-place looks increasingly unlikely for Big Steve, especially with Flash employing the Wild Card GW 34, Bench Boost GW 35 strategy, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned from this week, it’s that mass transfers have as much chance of going wrong as of going right, although it’s easy to say that in hindsight.
For the Last Stand, blank gameweek 33 was a total season-wrecking nightmare. Like Flash, we took a big hit, bringing in Aubameyang, Lacazette and Kolasinac for Aguero, Jimenez and Wan-Bissaka. We were sucked-in by Arsenal’s dominant performance against Newcastle on the Monday night, we lost all objectivity and reason and paid the price. Big hits did not equal big rewards. The week started horrendously, with captain Mane continuing his blank streak against Southampton – now 5 matches against his old club without a return – and, to rub salt in the wounds, getting himself booked with 30 seconds left for timewasting when there was no need at all. It’s hard to remember a time when a non-Newcastle player has pissed me off quite so much. Still, we woke up on Saturday morning still confident. At least Alexander-Arnold had registered an assist. The lack of a captain was a blow, but Newcastle had won 5 from 5 at home, scoring multiple goals in every match. We brought in Miguel Almiron over Youri Tielemans weeks ago, because we believe Almiron will haul big before the end of the season. Of course, Tielemans delivered his sixth return in six games, while Almiron, while Newcastle’s best player, did nothing. Jeffrey Schlupp continued his streak of wasting a great chance every game, though he did return 6 points for a clean sheet – 6 points this Newcastle fan really didn’t want.
Beyond that, the only return of the weekend for the Last Stand was possibly the worst return of the season, with Lejeune qualifying for a clean sheet only because he ruptured his knee ligaments and couldn’t leave the pitch until the clean-sheet threshold had passed. It was a devastating blow from Lejeune, who had only recently returned from rupturing the ligaments in his other knee, and who had marshalled Newcastle to five home wins in five matches with him on the pitch. It’s never nice to see a player sustain a serious injury, and we wish Lejeune all the best in his recovery, and look forward to seeing him back on the pitch next season.
Watching Vardy return 16 points was tough, and it was only made worse with the news Aubameyang started on the bench. It only took ten minutes for Kolasinac’s clean sheet to be eradicated, by a player who only started because of a player withdrawing in Everton’s warm-up. You just can’t script this stuff. While Aubameyang did get on the pitch, the double-Arsenal strike partnership returned a combined total of just three points. This weekend exemplified just why I started the season feeling that Arsenal players just couldn’t be relied on. Why did we chance three of them? Stupid, just stupid, especially against such in-form options as Vardy. The only consolation of the weekend was Azpilicueta returning five points on Monday night. A complete and utter disaster of a weekend, which leaves us 16 points off fifth-place Big Steve, 39 points off fourth-place Who Horner and 57 points off third-place Flash. Any glimmer of hope of an unlikely title challenge is well and truly gone, as we lie 148 points off the top place with only five gameweeks remaining. We’d love to blame bad luck, but our woeful position is a result of preventable mistakes, which anyone who studied the form and fixtures could have predicted. Avoiding this catastrophe was easy, this nightmare is one of our own creation, and it’s one that could easily be repeated next week, having taken a 12-point hit before the Champion’s League matches have even been played. The only positive is that this harsh lesson will serve us well next season, and these mistakes shall not be repeated. Although, with hindsight, we’ve been making these sorts of mistakes for months.
Which brings us to the titanic race for the title, possibly the greatest in the history of the League of Gentlemen. Like Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, Dinga and Jeeves are going toe-for-toe, right to the end. As expected, Jeeves replaced Higuain and Pogba, bringing in Tielemans and Lacazette. Dinga made only the one transfer, replacing with Tielemans. There were only three differences in the teams – Pereira, Fraser and Rondon lining up for the Ringers; Kolasinac, Maddison and Lacazette for the Jugganauts – and, in a remarkable turn of events, the three differentials between the squads both returned ten points. That meant it all came down to the captaincy and, come 4.55pm on Saturday afternoon, Jeeves thought he had the weekend won when Vardy, a long-term Jugganaut favourite, especially during the new-manager bounce – brought home 32 points. This left Jeeves in a dominant position heading into Sunday, with a healthy lead over Dinga and two extra players to play. Had Arsenal won 1-0 through a Lacazette goal, Jeeves would have ascended to the top of the league for the first time this season. The fightback from eight position at Christmas has been astonishing, and the neutrals were ready to proclaim Jeeves as their new king. However, Dinga remained calm. He knew Everton were in good form, and he knew the Arse shit the bed on the road, and so it proved. As dusk fell on Monday evening, Jeeves was in the unenviable position of wanting points from his Chelsea players, but not too many from their main man. For Dinga, the situation was simple: he needed the notoriously-patchy captain Hazard to deliver, and deliver big. In incredible scenes, Hazard scored two goals – including a goal-of-the-season contender – to return the exact same score as Vardy. Even with hindsight, it seems unbelievable.
By virtue of Jeeves taking the hit for Lacazette, Dinga extended his lead at the top by four points, meaning Jeeves now has to make up 28 points, he has one less week to do it in, and he is at the disadvantage of Dinga still having his Triple Captain card in the bank. Even so, it would take a fool to write off the fabled Jugganaut momentum. With both men employing the Wild Card GW 34, Bench Boost GW 35 strategy, this becomes the key week in the title run-in. Who each man brings in this week will be the deciding factor in the chase for glory. Will they opt for triple-City, knowing Guardiola’s men face a double gameweek of Spurs and Manchester United? Which Liverpool attacker will they go for? Will they chance an Arsenal or two, knowing they are inconsistent but have a favourable DGW 35? Do they go for Watford or Wolves assets, knowing Watford could be saving themselves for the FA Cup Final, and Wolves have the agony of a dramatic defeat that could kill their motivation? How many Spurs stars will they go for, and will Pochettino rotate his big names for the Huddersfield match that is sandwiched by Champion’s League ties against, perhaps, the best team in Europe? How many single-gameweek players do you bring in? These are the questions that will determine this year’s League of Gentlemen champion. The eventual winner will be the man who finds the answers.
The loser will be condemned to spend the summer tortured by hindsight.
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