We are 27 gameweeks down and the end is in sight. At least for you mere mortals anyway. For those with a crystal ball, like myself, the end has been in sight for a long time. In fact, it is not so much “in sight” as it is “annoyingly obscuring my view of the rest of the world”. And being the kind and generous writer that I am, I have decided to enlighten one lucky league as to what this sight entails. So here we have the Community Special Crystal Ball, with this week’s winner Matty Boar. Take a look at the future…
(Caution: the following article contains spoilers)
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The Current Situation
How It All Ends…
For the millions of neutrals out there reading this, this league works to a 33-game season, with gameweek 33 blanked, and therefore gameweek 34 acting as the final matchup. Three playoff systems are then run: an Upper-Tier (positions 1-4), a Mid-Tier (positions 5-8), and a Lower-Tier (positions 9-12). The semi-finals of these playoffs occur in gameweek 35, and the finals are in gameweek 36.
12th – C’bags & Bells FC
Oh boy, file this one away and move on to next season. I’m not even sure anything can be salvaged from the wreckage to help in the lower-tier playoffs. When Fulham’s Ola Aina is arguably your best player, you know you have roster concerns. C’bags were unable to pick up a single win for the remainder of the season, with Ross Barkley’s omission from the Villa starting 11 hurting considerably, and Havertz joining him on the bench more often than not (yes, even on the back of two assists). Bernardo Silva puts them in contention in a couple of games, but unfortunately, they are met with blanks from Firmino (shocking I know) and non-appearances by Cavani and Giroud.
11th – Jesters United
A drop from 9th to 11th for Jesters, but it’s the same playoffs they’ll be competing in, so only a bit of pride is hurt here. Bamford is fading at the wrong time (four scores of less than seven in his last five) and Ings’ injury is obviously bad news. Neto will keep the ship floating, but even he seems to have slowed down a little; at least compared to his top-10-worthy form around the turn of the year. Doubling-up on Fulham’s defence should prove a nice move…except when City come calling in gameweek 28 and Chelsea come calling on the final day. Then it could be a case of damage limitation. At least there won’t be much riding on it.
10th – Olive’s Army
Olive’s Army currently sit 11th and are in a “race” (and I use that term loosely) for 9th. So 10th is a fair compromise. I like the defence. Fabianski and Cresswell are part of a West Ham team that have finally convinced me that they’re legit (watch them revert to form now). Zinch is a way into the endless procession of City clean sheets…provided they don’t dry up now Pep has bigger fish to fry. And Aurier is a top 5 DEF…when he plays. The forward trio is nice too. I’m sure Adama is on the verge of breaking out…though I realise at gameweek 27 we’re close to passing the point of relevance…and Mane is Mane. It’s just that midfield…it is, how you say, bad.
9th – Lennies Legends
With their current rosters, the Lower-Tier playoffs are going to be a hell of a close race between Jesters, Olive’s, and Lennies. There’s very little to separate them. But if Lennies overhauls that defence, I think they become favourites. By nabbing the 9th spot, they also have the huge advantage of taking on C’bags in the semi-finals. I’m not saying it’s an automatic win, but… Anyways, as I was saying, some astute waivering to replace Mings, Saiss, and Walker should be more than enough to seal the Lower-Tier playoff title, given the strength in midfield and up top. If they had done it earlier, they may even have challenged further up the table.
8th – Wilson’s Warriors
An 8th place finish may be disappointing for a team that was just two wins away from 3rd, but in reality, this is the 8th best roster in the division, so it’s only fair. With just two subs, and Cash’s injury, owning Chelsea players will prove nerve-wracking – even apparently nailed-on ones like Rudiger. The Tuchel curse will strike again before the season is up. The team has some nice pieces – Traore in midfield, Kane (obviously) up top, and I like the Rodrigo pickup – but there’s a lot of “meh” around it. Pepe, Rice, Thiago, Evans…with those last two even “meh” might be kind. Still, 8th spot, 5th spot, what’s the difference? It’s the same playoffs.
7th – Lovers
From 7th to 7th. What a rollercoaster ride this final part of the season will be for Lovers. This is a team with a lot of unknowns, so I hope the manager is ready for some nervous waiting on lineup announcements. In fact, looking down that roster, I count Pope, Bellerin, Semedo, McGinn, and Ndidi as the only nailed-on. In fact, the crystal ball showed me that there were not one, but two weeks between now and gameweek 34 where neither Gabriel Jesus, Lacazette, or Martial started. That’ll hurt. When everyone plays, though, it’s a very strong team. It also has KDB. Did I mention this is the team with KDB? Yeah, that always helps.
6th – Sloppy Crew
A nice little jump from 8th to 6th for Sloppy Crew allows them to claim that they finish in the top half (it’s the small victories). This is a roster that has a big score in it between now and the end of the season. When the stars align and Mahrez and Ziyech both get given starts in the same gameweek, and Leicester keep a clean sheet too (City aside, their schedule is delightful in this respect), we’re going to be looking at a 140+ score. There will also be a week when fielding 11 is difficult, and Trossard and Eze do nothing, and you’re left hoping on a Sunday for vintage Auba, not this-season Auba. I guess that’s why it’s a 6th place finish though.
5th – Byng’s Bears
Man, I really wanted the Bears to make it. They were the one shot we had of a team changing the playoff picture from today. But alas, those draws for BlooMoonich and Real Ale have proven crucial. The Bears stay put in the mid-tier playoffs, but they gave it a good go. The ASM injury was restrictive, but it was the defence that ended up costing them. City’s sewing up of the title meant that Stones was no longer the 20+ pointer of early 2021, and Cooper similarly tailed off like his club Leeds tend to do as the season progresses. Still, this is the form team heading into the mid-tier playoffs. And that, obviously, counts for a lot.
4th – Real Ale Madrid
Real Ale cling on to the Upper-Tier playoffs by the skin of their teeth – one more game and I don’t think they’d make it. The Harvey Barnes injury and Cancelo inevitable rotation is what’s caused the slide – they are, after all, Real Ale’s two best players. Still, Lookman and Watkins are very tidy forward options, and Robertson and Doherty have big scores in their locker. Torres and Foden may actually benefit from City’s pursuit of a European title too. But this is all a very “glass half full” perspective. This team faded down the stretch and stumbled into the playoffs…leading to the slight inconvenience of having to now face Wildboar in the semi-finals.
3rd – 1860 BlueMoonich
Another team squeaking in is BlueMoonich. Mount will carry this team (even on those super-rare occasions when he doesn’t start, Tuchel brings him on and he scores nicely), but interestingly it’s probably the defence that gets them over the line. Dawson, Digne, Tarkowski, Veltman, Andersen; that is a legit back five. More than legit in fact. This roster is probably the only one screaming out for a trade, and the right move can set this team up perfectly for the playoffs. I’m thinking an FWD here. With the only two on the roster being a Chelsea player and a City player, there is a real danger that there will be a week when neither start.
2nd – F.C. McGrory
The runners-up medals go to F.C. McGrory, who must feel like Tom Kite at the 1997 Masters (I’ll leave that one for you to look up). This is a solid squad, with hardly a single weak point. Even Pickford and Neves – two players who last season would have been certifiable SWAYDs – are actually having themselves good seasons, which suggests this manager plays with logic and not emotion. Does it miss that superstar spark though? Perhaps. There’s no elite player here, and maybe that’s why this roster hasn’t been able to put up a challenge for the title. Player for player, it’s not too far off Wildboar, but there are two key differences…
1st – Wildboar XI
Yep, we’re talking Bruno and Grealish. The best two on the game (this season) have not surprisingly led Wildboar to an easy league title. If this were a Formula 1 race, they’d have lapped the field by now. If it were a cricket match, they’d have won by an innings. If it were a boxing fight they’d have stopped it five rounds ago. This roster is just plain dirty. Maguire, Targett, and Coufal are the 4th, 5th, and 6th highest scoring defenders this season. DCL and Raphinha have the 5th and 6th best FP/G’s amongst forwards this season. It’s bordering on unfair. Stevie Wonder would have seen this title coming. But can they do the double?
So there we have it: the final table. Congratulations Wildboar XI, but a bit of an anti-climax, as I’m sure you’ll agree. No major shocks, and not even any change in the makeup of the teams for each of the playoffs. But don’t blame the Crystal Ball for that. These predictions aren’t made up for your entertainment. Perhaps the Playoffs will create more of a spectacle…
The Lower-Tier Playoffs:
I said that finishing 9th would be beneficial, and I was proven right. Lennies have a poor week of it, with only Son and Townsend hitting double-digits, but fortunately their opponents C’bags can’t capitalize, and slump to defeat in a game that was there for the taking. The second semi-final is marginally better, though again goes to show why these four are battling it out in this tier. Jesters manage to progress over Olive’s Army, and have Moura and Odegaard to thank for it. The North London pair have a nice gameweek, but this was as much a case of Olive’s losing the matchup than Jesters winning it.
“Cometh the hour, cometh the man” may not be entirely appropriate for the final of the Lower-Tier playoffs, but still, Lennies Legends saved arguably their best performance for when it (kinda) mattered most. A huge total – the highest of the gameweek – is enough to see them defeat Jesters in what turned out to be a surprisingly high-scoring affair. Richarlison put the Blades to the sword to the tune of 30 points, whilst the Man City double-up in defence was timed perfectly for a game against Newcastle – two clean sheets and a nice return there. Jesters gave a good showing, but nobody was able to go big like for Lennies. Still, at least they didn’t finish last.
The Mid-Tier Playoffs:
Two absolute crackers in the mid-tier playoffs, with Lovers overcoming Sloppy Crew and Wilson’s Warriors getting the best of Byng’s Bears. Both matchups are settled by less than 10 points, demonstrating just how close these four teams are. Ultimately though, Harry Kane did what he’s been doing all season and delivered the goods for the Warriors, whilst it was more of a team performance for Lovers, who got solid returns from Pope, Ndidi, and the Arsenal trio of Bellerin, Tierney, and Lacazette. It is heartbreak for the Bears and Sloppy Crew, who both put up numbers that would have beaten most of the other teams.
If you thought the semi-finals were tight, wait until you see the final. This one goes right down to the wire. And fittingly, that meant Harry Kane’s matchup against Wolves for the Warriors and KDB’s matchup against Newcastle for Lovers. It was close. Oh so close. But there’s a reason KDB is the default number 1 draft pick every year. He wins his teams things. Granted, we probably would have hoped for a league title and not the mid-tier playoffs, but stop ruining the narrative. The Lovers edge it by such a small margin that the Warriors are left frantically clicking refresh hoping for some stats corrections. It’s not happening. It’s over.
The Upper-Tier Playoffs:
Like defending champions France heading into the 2002 World Cup, everybody had Wildboar as odds-on favourites to take home the playoff title. But just like that France side, Wildboar have crashed out at the first hurdle. Gameweek 35 is not an ideal one for Wildboar – the two big dogs Bruno and Grealish go up against one another, whilst there aren’t any easy games for Matheus Pereira (vs Arsenal), Raphinha (vs Tottenham), and DCL (vs West Ham) either. Oh, and Werner takes on City. Not good. Nevertheless, even with the champ reeling, it still requires a knockout blow, and full credit to Real Ale for stepping up and delivering it. The heroes are the trio of Ademola Lookman, Emile Smith Rowe, and an injury-free Harvey Barnes. The under-the-radar stars have been good all season, and they bring it together at the perfect time to cause the biggest upset of the season.
In the other semi-final, F.C. McGrory prevail, navigating their way past 1860 BlueMoonich on the back of big games from Zaha (vs Sheffield United), Saka (vs West Brom), Vardy (vs Newcastle), and Chris Wood (vs Fulham). The fixtures have fallen kindly for the league runners-up, and BlueMoon were never really in contention, despite putting up a decent score themselves. The leagues best defence was able to keep two clean sheets, but the City-Chelsea game proved damaging; stifling their two main men, Sterling and Mount.
Ladies and gentlemen…please stand to applaud your playoff champion…Real Ale Madrid! Phil Foden’s 35-pointer against Newcastle means he takes home the MVP award, but there were big days had throughout the team. Cancelo and Robertson lived up to their reputations, but it was the surprise contributions from the likes of Michael Keane, Jack Harrison, and Ferran Torres that really made the difference. F.C. McGrory shouldn’t be disappointed. The scoreline wasn’t that close, but they by no means threw in the towel. It was the Manchester United-Leicester game that hurt most: it made it impossible for more than two of Shaw, Fofana, Rashford, and Vardy to realistically go big, and with the other big name – Saka – taking on Chelsea, it all proved too much. They may have scraped into the playoffs by the skin of their teeth, but Real Ale Madrid went all the way when it mattered. Congratulations!
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