With the international break upon us, it is a crucial time for managers to reassess and re-focus. Jeeves' clawing back of Big Steve gives us all hope, while Pochettino leaving Spurs means there are several players who could change the game in the coming weeks.
As the November international break draws to a close, the League of Gentlemen has become a lot more interesting. Big Steve, at one point thought an unstoppable force at the top of the division, has seen his lead slashed to just 35 points over the Juggernauts. 35 points may seem a healthy gap, until you remember that, just three gameweeks ago, Jeeves outscored the leader by 40 points. The Butcher could be knocked off his perch in just one gameweek, and the man that can do it is renowned for his FPL underdog fightbacks. What makes this particular duel so interesting is that, of a fifteen-man squad, they share just five players, and only three of those are attackers. There is enough difference between the components that, on any given week, either of these two managers could thrash the other. Big Steve does have a Wildcard in his locker over Jeeves, who used his in Gameweek 3; when and how he utilises it could set the tone for the rest of the season.
This division is by no means a two-horse race, however. While Jeeves is the most poised to attack the Man Who Would Be King, what his gameweek of thrashing Dumb and Dummett by 40 points shows is that, with just one good gameweek, one little run of form, anyone can get back into contention. If Slick Rick, whose Tiptoppers lie in 16th, 133 points off the top, could find three gameweeks that matched Jeeves’ epic result, they would be just 13 points off the top. Three great gameweeks to find, in a season with twenty-six gameweeks remaining. Even Wooden Spoon Helling, second-bottom in the table, managed to beat Big Steve by 26 points three weeks ago. He may be top, but he is catchable. Maybe he drops his Wildcard, then sees three of his main men pick up injuries and another two get sent off in the same gameweek, rendering it a complete disaster that takes weeks to rectify. Maybe the players he brings in to replace his injured men get rotated over the Christmas period, make only late substitute appearances and score only one point. These things happen in football.
What the managers in the League of Gentlemen also need to remember is that, in the first week of January, two things happen that change the FPL game completely: They receive a fresh Wildcard (assuming they have used their first) and Premier League teams join the F.A. Cup. When this happens, we end up with teams having no games one gameweek, then two the next. Every year, without fail, the weeks known as double and blank gameweeks change the complexion of the division completely. Imagine playing your Triple Captain, seeing your captain getting a hat-trick on the Saturday, and knowing he still has Norwich at home that gameweek. One player, with two great games, can score in excess of 100 points, and you could still have ten men with two games to go. Big Steve may have led for a while, but this competition is far from over. If anything, given his history of late charges and Big Steve’s of falling away, it is Jeeves who is the favourite right now. The only thing that is ever certain in the League of Gentlemen is that, by hook or by crook, Andrew Helling will find a way to win his coveted Wooden Spoon.
Keep going, Gentlemen. Keep on plotting, planning and praying to the FPL Gods. Keep on believing in yourselves and, in the words of the great prophet Jon Bon Jovi, keep the faith. What Big Steve did in the opening gameweeks, you could do between now and the New Year. Jeeves’ comebacks do not always end in glory. King Ding has yet to find his passion. With twenty-six weeks to go, it is still all to play for. Maybe, come May, it is you that will take the throne, and find yourself crowned the King of Gentlemen.
With that in mind, let’s look at how fortunes changed in Gameweek 12.
The League of Gentlemen:
As ever, the bottom four remain the same, although the Rodallega Bombs secured a solid 51 points to leapfrog Farcselona into 18th place. This season will always be one of what might’ve been for Tits-Up-Thompson, who did not file his paperwork with the F.A. in time and, as a result, only began accumulating points in Gameweek Two. It will prove an important lesson for the debutant in the importance of proper admin when it comes to FPL. There are no changes in the bottom two, with Mikey P still occupying the Wooden Spoon slot that Helling craves, that he yearns for, that his every moment of every day is spent obsessing over. With only three transfers made for the Suicide Squad this week, and the gap to Walney Utd closed to just seven points, perhaps Gameweek Thirteen is when Helling will finally secure his coveted last place.
The final spot in the Also-Rans is taken up by a new competitor, who had an FPL Nightmare in the truest sense of the word. Ginger Ben, in his first season, committed the cardinal sin: He forgot to press the Wildcard button. As such, his ten transfers meant he started the week on minus-36 points, a deficit that was always going to be impossible to overcome. While he scored a solid 50-point week, his net score was just 14 points, and he now finds himself 37 points off Lower Mid-Table and 170 off the top spot. A harsh lesson to learn, although, as a Sunderland fan, he knows all about how to completely self-destruct. We can only hope Ginger Ben remains committed to the game, because these lessons will stand him in good stead for the future.
In sixteenth lie the Tiptoppers, who drop four places following a below-average score of 41 points. Slick Rick has proven himself a capable manager, and has two of the highest gameweek scores of the League of Gentlemen so far. It is inconsistency which blights him, and has seen the Tiptoppers slip down the table. All is not lost, however. So much of his problems lie in his faith with his beloved Tottenham Hotspur, who have averaged around a point a game for the last 26 matches. With Pochettino now replaced by the Special One, all that could change. We all know how Mourinho gets the best out of the big man up front – Drogba, Ibrahimovic and Ronaldo show that. Where Jose goes, the big striker gets goals galore. Slick Rick’s faith in Harry Kane is likely to reap huge dividends for the rest of the season, and could see him fly up the table in coming weeks. If Mourinho gets Kane firing instantly, the Tiptoppers have the edge over the other managers who adopt a wait-and-see approach.
The two managers most dreading the return of Mourinho are Hitman Hodgson and Jie, just five and six points respectively ahead of Slick Rick, and neither with any Spurs representation. While the managers around them changed positions quite dramatically, Does It Mata? and Micky Quinnaj held fifteenth and fourteenth. Does It Mata? secured a good gameweek score of 59 points, following returns from Pope, Robertson, Traore, Salah, Vardy and captain Rashford. There will be regret from missing out on seven points by only making Vardy vice-captain, but the Hitman will be happy to see his gameweek scores rising following a dramatic fall from second position. Jie scored less than the Hitman, with returns from Robertson, Chilwell, Mane, Abraham, Rashford and surprise captain Tielemans giving Micky Quinnaj a gameweek score of 51 points. What is worrying for them is the continued omission of Alonso and Hudson-Odoi from the Chelsea starting line-up; how Jie deals with that situation could be the difference between rising and falling in the coming weeks. Both managers will fancy their chances of overhauling Oxsmorons next time out, especially following a disastrous 25-point gameweek from The Ox. With just nine points between the Hitman and The Ox, Oxsmorons need to use their two free transfers wisely this week, because they really need to get a green arrow on the board. The advantage they have is that they own Mourinho’s Harry Kane, and he plays against the defensively-abhorrent West Ham this week. Should The Ox entrust the armband to the Spurs captain, he could reap massive rewards. He’s kept the faith for so long, it would be a shame if he bottled the captaincy and missed out on a huge haul.
The real story in recent weeks has been the re-emergence of two teams who, very recently, were competing with each other to avoid being one of the Also-Rans, yet now find themselves both on the cusp of joining the Chasing Pack. Indeed, in the race for the League of Gentlemen Manager of the Month for November, they occupy the top two positions, a remarkable turnaround. In second place in that race, and eleventh in the division, are PKG FC, who followed-up a massive 85-point week with a strong 63-pointer. Returns from Robertson, Soyuncu, Mane, Maddison, Ings and captain Abraham reinforced that Private Parvesh is well and truly building momentum, though he will be completely devastated by his choice of two-point Yarmolenko over ten-point Bernardo Silva. With Robertson out for the weekend, he faces the prospect of Cresswell starting against the Special One’s Spurs, and you have to imagine he will use his transfer to strengthen the defence. In twelfth place, following a five-position-rise in one gameweek, and in the driving seat for Manager of the Month, remarkably, are Geord’s Lords. There is a massive irony that, at the start of the season, Lawes called his team Lawezarus Rising, a pun on how Lazarus rises from the dead, yet it is only by changing his team name that he has seen his team’s terminal fall be arrested. The inspired signing of Jimenez brought a second-consecutive nine points, Robertson, Tomori, Mane and Maddison secured 30 points between them, while captain Vardy brought home 24 points single-handedly to give the Lords a gameweek total of 75 points, the highest in the division. With sixteen matches to be played before we know who joins Big Steve, Who Horner and Slick Rick as winners of the Manager of the Month award, it would be dangerous for Lawes to put too much focus on it; especially when Geord’s Lords remain 111 points off top spot. However, it has been a very tough start to the season for the passionate man from Hexham, so nobody could begrudge him a moment of celebration following his 158-point fortnight. The next step for him, and for Private Parvesh, is to cement their return to form by finding the handful of points needed to, finally, join the Chasing Pack.
The Chasing Pack
Joining the Chasing Pack, for the first time in a few weeks, is All-Star Vogt. After a great start to the season, a tough few weeks saw Boom Xhakalaka plummet down the table. They have arrested the situation in recent weeks, and returns from Tomori, Tielemans, Mane, Jimenez, Abraham and captain Martial saw them secure 69 (oo-er!) points this time out. The weakness of their substitute options continues to be of concern, and All-Star Vogt will need to get this area sorted out ahead of the busy Christmas period, otherwise he risks undoing all his good work. A simple Simpson-to-Rico transfer costs very little, yet makes him so much stronger. Ninth place is occupied by the Dazzlers, just three points ahead. It could have been an FPL Nightmare for Deadly Daz in the transfer market, originally replacing Sterling and Pukki with Maddison and Origi for a four-point hit. Once news of Salah’s fitness leaked through, the ruthlessness of Deadly Daz came to the fore, and he transferred Origi back out for the predator Vardy. While this meant he started with a minus-8 deficit as opposed to a minus-four, it paid off in stunning fashion, when the Leicester men combined to bring home two goals and an assist, in comparison to nothing from Pukki, Sterling or Origi. 21 points as opposed to four meant that, even with the transfer hit, the Dazzlers were still nine points to the good, with a much stronger squad for the weeks ahead. With £2m in the bank, the shrewd transfer move might be to replace the out-of-favour Hudson-Odoi with Martial, the midfielder playing up front for Manchester United and bagging points whenever he’s on the pitch.
Quiet weeks for Iceman Newton and Flash saw Who Horner’s White Warriors leapfrog Madelaine Milan and Cows Arse Shovel into sixth position. The Iceman must be kicking himself right now. Having kept faith in Kane since the opening weekend, he finally bit the bullet and replaced him with Salah. While Salah secured eight points this week, the news has come out that he will be missing in Gameweek Thirteen, while Kane faces a fruitless West Ham while benefitting from a new manager bounce. He’ll be praying that it takes Mourinho a few weeks to get Spurs purring; at just 13 points ahead of Geord’s Lords in twelfth, the prospect of slipping into Lower Mid-Table will be weighing heavily on his mind. Flash suffered the FPL Nightmare of seeing his substitute goalkeeper outscore his starter by seven points, while also seeing substitute Robertson outscore starter Rico by four points and substitute Mount outscore starter Connolly by two points, with Connolly also suffering an injury. With those thirteen points in the bag, Cows Arse Shovel would be just two points off the Title Contenders, but instead find themselves as close to Lower Mid-Table as the top five. With no team bonding session in Bali this international break, the pressure is on Flash to regroup and recharge his squad in the harsh winter climate of Northern England. He must keep sight of the fact that this spell between international breaks has seen him fly up the table, and trust himself to continue that improvement in the coming weeks.
Who Horner secured his first great gameweek in six weeks, securing 74 points for the second-highest score in the division. The problem he has is that it came at the expense of a Free Hit; while he will be pleased to rise several places in the table, you can’t help but feel that using his Free Hit so early will cause major problems when we hit double/blank-gameweek season. It does mean, however, that he reverts to having Harry Kane as a captaincy option for Gameweek Thirteen, one that Who Horner is likely to exploit. With doubts remaining over Ederson’s fitness, you have to expect the no-hit wonder to secure a new goalkeeper for his team this weekend.
The Title Contenders
Not much change in the complexion of the Title Contenders this week, with all four squads scoring within six points of each other and no positional changes. Birkett remains in fifth, ten points ahead of the Chasing Pack and with every chip at his disposal. His captaincy choice of Martial paid off, with the Manchester United hitman securing 20 points, complemented by returns from Chilwell, Maddison, Abraham and a ten-pointer from Harry Wilson. With two injuries and a suspension ahead of the coming fixtures, Birkett will need to be shrewd in the transfer market in order to maintain the pressure on the teams ahead of him, while keeping distance from those chomping at his heels. You would expect him to replace Ederson, but there’s every chance he gives up on Aubameyang and replaces him with Harry Kane, in an attempt to hunt down King Ding.
The King saw his two free transfers yield a positive return of points, but he will be kicking himself he gave Perez a one-week gamble instead of going for Martial. Had he brought in the Frenchman, he’d find himself in third place right now, but instead has to settle for solidifying his position in the top four, with a one-point gain over Birkett’s Really. What will be of most concern to the teams above him, strangely enough, is the gamble he took on Perez. While it may not have paid off this week, what it shows is that the King is re-engaging with the game and, dare we say, starting to have some fun. The last thing the teams above him need is for the reigning, defending, undisputed champion to start enjoying himself; they all know that, when the King is focused, he is the most difficult player to overcome over 38 weeks. Just 69 (oo-er!) points off top spot and with all his chips available, a successful use of the wildcard could see him become the leader of the division in just two weeks; should he use it over Christmas, he could do it inside four days. With that sort of pressure, you have to wonder if the Masterchef will be able to hold onto third position for much longer. To be in third after almost a third of the season is a great achievement for the first-time entrant in the League of Gentlemen; the issue is that he’s used a Triple Captain and a Wildcard to get there. While he holds an eight-point advantage over King Ding, the Ringers have a two-chip advantage over Hugh G. Rection XI. With their last four gameweeks almost a dead-heat, it could be that the King’s Wildcard gives him the edge. However, should he get it wrong, then the Masterchef could finally put some distance between himself and fourth place. It’s a fascinating sub-plot to the division, and a situation that will need all of the wily Masterchef’s street-smarts to negotiate.
One man who cares not about sub-plots and the people behind him is the man in second, Jeeves. Another strong gameweek of 69 (oo-er!) points, following up on his 73 and 76 pointers in the previous fortnight, have seen him cut the gap to top to just 35 points. When everyone thought Big Steve was running away with the division, Jeeves was the one man who believed he could be overhauled. Jez Messing of the Weekly Bullshitter revealed this week that, in September, there had been a stand-up row between Jeeves and his assistant manager, Hot Rod, over Jeeves’ claims that the Juggernauts would be top by the end of November. Hot Rod apparently went crazy, screaming at Jeeves that he was ‘delusional’ and that he ‘isn’t living in the real world.’ When the row continued to escalate, Jeeves allegedly turned to substitute goalkeeper Button and told him to ‘fetch one of that stupid bastard’s seventeen car boot sale keyboards from the attic, so he can play us the funeral march to represent the death of his football credibility.’ There were those in the squad that thought Jeeves was mad, and Messing claims those players were the ones swiftly transferred out. The ones that remained clearly bought into Jeeves’ unerring self-belief, and it has reaped huge rewards. Hot Rod met Jez Messing for a coffee the other day and, so Messing claims, he said, ‘I’ve not seen talent like that arrogant gobshite’s since I knew this Elvis impersonator in Majorca. I only hope Jeeves can harness his, because if he can, we’ll all be calling him the King in six months.’ Strong claims from Hot Rod, but with the famous Juggernaut momentum in full flow, it would be a brave man to bet against Jeeves achieving his end-of-November goal.
The Man Who Would Be King
Of course, for him to do so, he still has to make up 35 points on Big Steve, who also has the advantage of having made less transfers, and still retaining his Wildcard. It says it all that Jeeves is throwing everything at the title chase, yet the Butcher still retains a good advantage. His signing of Vardy for Firmino shows that Big Steve is just as sharp in the transfer market, though he will wish he had backed his new signing with the armband. Looking at Big Steve’s squad, you feel this international break was the perfect time to play his Wildcard. Jorginho, Chambers, Matty Longstaff, Hudson-Odoi and Pukki are no longer delivering the goods, while Aguero, despite being a man you can never write off, has failed to deliver returns that justify his price since Gameweek Four, and faces a tough run of fixtures. It’s one thing trusting the men who brought you to the dance, but sometimes, to go to the next level, you have to be ruthless. Big Steve’s hero Kevin Keegan used David Kelly to fire Newcastle to the Premier League, before replacing him with Andy Cole because he knew, much as he loved Kelly, he was not the man for the title challenge. You feel this international break is the perfect time for the Butcher to carve up his squad, to leave himself with the finest steak for the challenges ahead. While 26,162 in the entire world is a truly outstanding position, Dumb and Dummett were top 1.5k earlier in the season. Whether or not the big man plays his Wildcard could determine not only whether he stays top, but whether this season gets back on track to be the greatest season in the history of the League of Gentlemen. If he hesitates for just one or two weeks, that could be all the opportunity Jeeves needs to steal in there and become the Man Who Would Be King.
Exciting times in the League of Gentlemen, with many fascinating sub-plots developing in addition to the title race. What once looked a procession to the title is now shaping up to be an epic fight, while the comeback of Jeeves is giving hope to every team in the division. There is a long way to go in this season, and with the games coming thick and fast until our next break over F.A. Cup weekend, you can only imagine what drama will unfold between now and the New Year. As ever, 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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The FPL Nightmare: How to Lose the World's Greatest Mini-League in 38 Simple Steps
The FPL Nightmare II:
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The Lawes Rank Redemption
The Complete FPL Nightmare Trilogy:
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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.