After five weeks of his lead being eroded, the Butcher needed to produce. In a week where the form book was turned on its head, the Gentlemen's Trophy finalists were determined.
Gameweek 34 proved the most volatile week in FPL since the restart, with more than half of the League of Gentlemen changing positions, including three switches in the Title Contenders. For Big Steve, it could prove the gameweek that saved his season.
Entering the week just seven points ahead in the title race, from a lead of over a hundred, the talk was that the Butcher had lost his way. The fans were worried, thinking the triumph that had seemed so inevitable for so long was slipping out of his grasp, reeled in by the experience and know-how of King Ding. The Butcher needed a massive week ... and he got it, a resounding score of 84 re-establishing a twenty-point lead at the top, with just four gameweeks remaining.
The sub-plot of Gameweek 34 was the second leg of the Gentlemen's Trophy semi-finals, and there was massive drama in both ties. In Semi-Final One, Deadly Daz ended Wednesday evening with a lead of two points over the Butcher with both teams having three difference-makers to play. Thursday evening started according to plan, with Danny Ings firing home to secure a nine-point total, in comparison to the Butcher's McCarthy, who only scored three. It all went a little wrong in the Spurs match, however. Big Steve had Aurier, who kept a clean sheet and earned two bonus points, saved by VAR denying Bournemouth a goal that would've taken Aurier's total from eight to three. VAR punished the Dazzlers on a second occasion, too, when Spurs were incorrectly denied a penalty which Kane would surely have scored. Entering the final match, the equation was simple: if Greenwood outscored Rashford by two points, the Dazzlers were out. Greenwood scored, securing a seven-point total before his substitution. Deadly Daz needed Rashford to score and, as the match entered stoppage-time, the chance came. Rashford found himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper. Big Steve's heart was in his mouth. Last Gasp Lawes had done it again. The Dazzlers were in the final! But, somehow, Rashford missed! The School Meals Saviour shanked the shot, sending Big Steve through by just three points.
In Semi-Final two, the gap was much larger. Lord Geord, the form man in the division, securer of the highest score in the previous two gameweeks, led King Ding by nineteen points. There would be no need for Last Gasp Lawes in this tie. All day long, though, Lord Geord was nervous. Against any normal opponent, he wouldn't even need to check the scores, but this was no normal opponent. This was the man who always finds a way. This was the three-time League of Gentlemen winner. This was King Ding. Lord Geord had been furious on Wednesday night, watching new signing Foden miss two easy chances, including an essentially-open goal from four yards. If either of those chances go in, it's game open. That neither did was the warning sign, and the Lord knew it. Nine points from the Ingstant classic cut the lead to ten. Wilson's goal being ruled out by VAR left it at two. It all came down to the Lords' Martial vs King Ding's captain Bruno. Both men found an assist. If either scored, it would be curtains. A loose ball, on the edge of the area. Bruno jumps on top of it, his foot sliding down and stamping on the shin of the Villa defender. A sure red card! Out of control of his body and endangering an opponent! The laws of the game are simple, they are clear, and they had ensured Lord Geord was in the final. The referee went to VAR to check on the incident. The King knew it was curtains. Lord Geord smugly sat back, waiting for the inevitable, knowing the FPL Gods had intervened early to ease the stress ... Penalty awarded. A. Penalty. Kick. Was. Awarded. For leaving the ground, endangering his opponent and leaving stud marks on the defender's shin, Bruno was awarded a penalty. He picked himself up, blew a kiss to Lord Geord watching at home and stroked it into the net. Game over. Tournament over. Season over. Try as he might, Martial could not find the last-gasp heroics to save his manager. The King was into the final, to face his biggest rival. For the Lawes Bros, the luck ran out. So near, and yet so VAR.
Gentlemen's Trophy, Semi Finals results:
Deadly Daz 138 - 141 Big Steve
Lord Geord 137 - 143 King Ding
And what a final it will be. Big Steve vs King Ding. First vs second. One gameweek to win it all, and with it, take a giant step towards securing a second trophy. After all the drama, after all the heartbreak, after all the tension, it all comes down to this. Gameweek 35. The Butcher versus The King.
The Gentlemen’s Trophy semi-finals were the catalyst for the biggest shake-up of the league table in months. Let's find out who the movers and shakers were in Gameweek 34.
The League of Gentlemen:
The chase is on for Mikey P, who streamlined his transfer operation and only made three signings this week. He was rewarded for his faith in his squad with a 74-point score after hit deductions, one which cut the gap to Metal Marc to just thirty points. It could have been even better, too, had Ings started over Foden and had Taylor not been sold for Azpilicueta. The twenty points lost out on must not side-track him; they should serve as a reminder to have faith in his very good squad over the last four weeks. If he does, he will not finish bottom. No changes in the rest of the Also-Rans, with Tits Up Thompson and Wooden Spoon Helling remaining in nineteenth and eighteenth place respectively. Seventeenth-place Jie closed the gap to Lower Mid-Table again, and now lies just 25 points from escaping the dregs of the division. He has to keep one eye on Wooden Spoon Helling, who at 63 points behind could yet spring an upset, but his focus should be on climbing into the next section up over the last four weeks.
A bad week for Slick Rick, despite correctly predicting Bergwijn to start over Son and making the transfer accordingly. Three defensive returns were supported by only two attacking returns, neither of which were captain Kane. From the Gameweek One highest score to the verge of the Also-Rans, this season has been a tough lesson for the Tiptoppers, who now face a real fight to stay in Lower Mid-Table. Their continued reluctance to sign Bruno surely cannot continue. Also dropping is Iceman Newton, whose fall to fifteenth is a just reward for his neglect of his team. Absent since Gameweek 23, it would only be right that Slick Rick makes up the eleven-point difference in the final four weeks. Pushing them both down is Ginger Ben, who climbed to fourteenth following three defensive and six attacking returns. A solid 69 points was a good outcome, and he now has two free transfers with which to attack the Ox, just twenty points ahead, this weekend.
Eight attacking returns for the Ox ensured no ground was made by Ginger Ben, but the lack of scoring from his defensive players ensured he dropped a position into thirteenth. Equidistant from eleventh and thirteenth, Oxsmorons could go either way this weekend, and much will depend on his captaincy choice. Rising two positions into twelfth is Who Horner, who secured the division's highest gameweek score with 95. Returns from Pope, de Bruyne, Aubameyang and Ings lay the foundations, while fifteen-point Egan contributed massively. The real hero, however, was Triple Captain Bruno, who secured the White Warriors a massive 42 points alone. This was one of the best uses of Triple Captaincy in League of Gentlemen history, one which leaves Who Horner with an outside chance of the top ten. First, he'll have to overtake Big Time Birkett, whose poor week of 55 points saw him drop out of the Chasing Pack. Taking a hit to swap Kane and Sarr out for Sterling and Greenwood proved correct, with his new signings securing a six-point higher total. The same can't be said for his other hit, taking out David Silva to bring in Antonio, with that transfer resulting in a net score of minus nineteen points, leaving Big Time a tough task ahead as he looks to bounce back.
The Chasing Pack
Climbing back into the Chasing Pack is Private Parvesh, who scored 74 points following one defensive and seven attacking returns. In a cruel twist of fate, however, the one attacking player who didn't get a return was the one he gave the captain's armband to, a choice that leaves him seven points behind ninth-place Flash. It wasn't a great week for Flash, whose Wolves trio let him down badly for the second-successive gameweek, and whose places in the squad look vulnerable with two free transfers to play. Eight returns did mean closing the gap to eighth, but with 71 points to make up, it's going to take something special to climb any higher.
Eighth position is now occupied by Lord Geord, whose sensational run of form came to a devastating end in the gameweek's biggest FPL Nightmare. The profligacy of Foden in front of goal and the VAR decisions that led to his Gentlemen's Trophy exit were just the start of the horror show. Rashford's wasted chances, Liverpool's uncharacteristic shoddy defending, Mane's zero-point cameo and another Wolves wipeout meant the Lords scored just 54 points, tailspinning them out of the Title Contenders, dropping them three places in the standings and resulting in an almost-100k fall in the Overall Rankings - their first red arrow in eight weeks. Decisive action is required from Lord Geord to ensure that this season, which looked like being his greatest-ever performance just a few days ago, does not fall away in the last four weeks.
Remaining static amid the volatility around him is The Masterchef in seventh. A wonderful eleven returns gave him a gameweek score of 80 points, keeping the Masterchef well on course to smash his previous-best overall ranking. With just ten points needed to go sixth, 28 needed to reach the Title Contenders and a Bench Boost still to play, the Masterchef is coming into form.at just the right time, and promises to be a strong competitor next season. Another who will enter next season with aspirations of the upper echelons is All-Star Vogt, whose third 90+ point gameweek in the five weeks since the restart launched him two places in the table. Eleven returns and eighteen bonus points gave him the division's second-highest gameweek total and a tally of 432 points in five weeks. In the form of his life, with a Free Hit to play and just 29 points off third, the All-Star is perfectly poised to end his debut season in spectacular fashion.
The Title Contenders
Climbing back into the Title Contenders after a one-week absence is Deadly Daz, though it will be little consolation after his Gentlemen's Trophy run came to such a crushing end with Rashford's awful last-gasp miss. What made it even worse was he declined to play his Bench Boost, a decision which may have only cost him eight points, but those eight points would've been enough to take him into the final. The only thing stopping it being classified as an FPL Nightmare was the transfer call of the week, switching out one-point Bernardo Silva for seventeen-point team-mate David Silva. 56 points from his four midfielders, who all hit double figures, paved the way for an 89-point gameweek score which leaves him just eleven points off third. With 25 points gained from his last two transfers in the week of their signing, Deadly Daz is the transfer king at the minute; if he keeps that going another week, the bronze medal position could be his.
In fourth place is Hitman Hodgson, who risked it all with an eight-point hit and cringed as it all backfired. Zinchenko, the man he removed for a hit, secured six points, while the man he brought in, Mendy, scored zero points. Now lying nine points behind Jockin' Jeeves with four weeks to go, that could yet prove the decision which costs him a debut-season bronze medal. Only five players secured returns, and while Taylor and captain Bruno brought home 39 points between them, the underperformance from elsewhere left Does It Mata with a 63-point net score and work to be done.
Jockin' Jeeves has had a torrid run of late, his season falling apart since his Gameweek 27 Wildcard. With the critics suggesting the two-time champ had lost it, and with his withdrawal to the woods to address the issue, the Juggernaut returned to society not just with a new house but, more importantly, with an 86-point gameweek that carried him to third place. 28 points from captain Bruno, 11 from Taylor and 18 from Salah were the catalysts; now, with Hot Rod's interference a thing of the past and a new base established, Jockin' Jeeves will look to use the remainder of the season to send a message: Next season is coming, and so are the Juggernauts. This season will be his third without the title; it would take a brave man to bet against him ending that run next year.
This week was meant to be the ascension, the week the King retook his throne. Entering it just seven points away and with all the momentum on his side, all he had to do was keep on doing what he's been doing. It all went wrong inside four minutes of the gameweek when new goalkeeper Foster conceded to the Premier League's worst team. With Chelsea conceding twice and Wolves offering nothing, the King was in trouble. Despite pulling off an unlikely victory in the cup with the assistance of VAR, the Gameweek 31 signing of Rashford over Greenwood continued to cost him. The King suffered his first head-to-head defeat to Big Steve in six weeks, a blow only softened by reaching the cup final and limiting the damage to thirteen points. The King has done remarkably to get himself back into contention; he can't afford another week like this if he wishes to become the first man to defend the League of Gentlemen title.
The Man Who Would Be King
Entering Gameweek 34, Big Steve had a problem. The fans were doubting he could pull it off. The players were nervous they would let it slip. The media were sure the narrative was set. The only man without any doubts was the Butcher. He didn't become the runaway leader by accident. He hasn't headed the table for half a year through a fluke. His home wasn't the top 10k by a quirk of fate. Big Steve is where he is through dominance, ability and consistency. He knew that the King was giving it everything. He also knew that the pressure was on the chaser. He made just one transfer, bringing in Aurier for van Aanholt, and secured an immediate three-point boost. He saw his star midfield trio bang in 46 points between them. He went into the last match knowing that both his rivals - Deadly Daz in the Gentlemen's Trophy, King Ding in the league - had made the mistake of signing Rashford over Greenwood. He sat back with a steak and a whisky and let his team remind everyone why he is where he is. Gentlemen's Trophy finalist. Twenty points clear at the top. Top 6k in the world. Four weeks to go.
That concludes the round-up for, perhaps, the most dramatic week in League of Gentlemen history. Next week, it's going to be even better. King Ding vs The Butcher in the Gentlemen's Trophy final. The winner takes not only the glory, but a massive step towards securing the title. Six teams still in with a shout of the bronze medal. Eight teams below them, grafting to guarantee themselves entry into next season's new competition, the Gentlemen's Classic. Four teams desperate to avoid being the top of the Also-Rans. Mikey P striving for second-bottom, perhaps the most dramatic story of all. Half the division so close to a highest-ever Overall Ranking. Everyone is still fighting for something, and they have just four gameweeks to secure it. 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 Kindle and the Kindle app on smartphones, only £1.99: