The end of the most unusual season is upon us, and with it comes the final opportunity to climb the ranks or claim mini-league glory.
The usual mix of dead-rubbers and motivated teams is slightly diluted this season with the title and relegation places settled ahead of time, but the battle for the top four and the remaining European spots remains wide open.
And Gameweek 38 has a reputation for the unexpected.
Take Theo Walcott’s 34-minute hat-trick against West Bromwich Albion at the end of the 2014/15 campaign, or the ten goals shared equally between the Baggies and Manchester United in Sir Alex Ferguson’s last game in charge.
This year, West Brom could be involved in another high-scoring affair when they visit a fan-filled Elland Road. The Leeds United faithful celebrating not only their first season back in the Premier League for 17 years but also their Championship victory from 10 months ago.
With the cricket season already underway, could we see a cricket score in the football?
The last round of matches all kick-off simultaneously, as is tradition on the final day of the season, handing us a Sunday deadline of 14:30 BST.
Celebration and Motivation
Just as they did in midweek, the home sides will benefit from playing in front of their supporters. Although, as Spurs discovered against Aston Villa, a poor performance can quickly change the mood. Boos ringing out at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium before half-time.
But with Marcelo Bielsa’s side finishing the season strongly, Leeds United are not expected to suffer the same fate.
Hotly tipped by Zophar, the Pro Pundit is backing Patrick Bamford (£6.6m) and co to push him towards his eighth top 10,000 finish. The combination of in-form striker against porous defence appeals:
Bamford tops the xG non-penalty numbers (1.73) for Leeds over the last four matches and has landed at least double the number of shots on target (six) compared to any other Leeds player. West Brom have conceded a massive 50 shots on target over the last six Gameweeks; that’s an average of over eight a game!
When selecting his shortlist of favoured armband candidates, Captain Sensible writer Jan put Bamford in third.
The Whites have only lost one of their last eight matches at Elland Road and put five goals past Sam Allardyce’s men the last time the two sides met. Since then, the Baggies’ fortunes have not changed, conceding at least two goals in six of their last eight league outings.
There was, however, a word of caution voiced for those considering Bamford.
Neale, the doyen of the team news, warned of reduced minutes for several of the Leeds contingent due to farewell appearances for long-serving players Gaetano Berardi (£4.0m) and Pablo Hernandez (£5.7m).
I would not be shocked if [Bamford] got 60 or 70 minutes.– Neale
Nonetheless three of Bielsa’s men are selected in the final Scout Picks of the season.
The known absentees for the Whites are Illan Meslier (£4.8m) in goal, Mateusz Klich (£5.2m) and Diego Llorente (£4.4m). Meslier missing out has left many managers contemplating a hit for a goalkeeper, something Neale advised against, even if it meant going with ten men.
Across the Pennines, Manchester City’s line-up is, as ever, hard to predict. And this weekend they are joined in that respect by their local rivals Manchester United, who play in the Europa League final on Wednesday.
Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer promised to “make a few changes” with Bruno Fernandes (£11.3m) among those not guaranteed a starting spot.
Going for Gold
All this means that Liverpool offer the best captain options.
Mohamed Salah (£12.9m) and Sadio Mané (£11.8m) are not only Jan’s top picks but also those of Tom and Andy among our four Scout Picks selectors.
Ahead of facing a side he scored 16 points against earlier in the season, Mohamed Salah is top among all midfielders for expected goal involvement (xGI) over the last four matches. Just two players have more shots in the box than him over the last six, suggesting he will be giving his all to win the Golden Boot race on Sunday.– Scout Picks
And our Big Numbers article pointed to an encouraging statistic for Mané owners.
Seven – the number of consecutive Premier League games that Sadio Mané has scored in against Crystal Palace. In the league’s history, only Robin van Persie (against Stoke City) has scored in eight consecutive matches against an opponent.– Big Numbers
What’s more, Liverpool need to win to ensure Champions League football for next season.
The Reds are currently level on points with Leicester City but are above them in the table thanks to their superior goal difference. However, a big win for the Foxes by five goals or more would put real pressure on on Jurgen Klopp’s side.
An unlikely scenario, perhaps, but Liverpool may want to bag a few goals against Crystal Palace just to be on the safe side.
And the Eagles have an abysmal record against their hosts, having lost their last seven matches against them by an aggregate score of 22 goals to five.
The one spanner in the works could be that this is Roy Hodgson’s final game in charge.
Part of me thinks they are going to be right up for this and I don’t think they are going to roll over.– David, Captaincy Video
However improbable, a repeat of the scoreline on Sir Alex Ferguson’s last day in the Old Trafford hot seat would be welcomed by Fantasy managers, with the obvious exception of Liverpool fans.
Anfield was also set to be the petri dish for David’s new ‘equal opportunities’ captain experiment.
Speaking on the Captaincy Video with Joe, David suggested the radical idea of handing the armband to the best candidate based on their qualifications alone. He highlighted a player who has scored in each of the last four Gameweeks, has had the most shots over the last six matches, and is up against the team that has conceded more big chances than anyone else.
However, that player, Christian Benteke, is now an injury doubt and has been left out of Neale’s predicted line-up. The experiment will, unfortunately, have to wait until the new season.
As mentioned, Leicester City’s need not only to win but ideally by a big margin, thrusts Kelechi Iheanacho (£6.2m) into the spotlight.
The Foxes forward has 11 goals in 11 matches and faces a Spurs side who conceded 20 shots in their home encounter with Aston Villa.
But the fact that Brendan Rodgers could instruct his team to go for it at some stage, may benefit Harry Kane (£11.9m) if it means Leicester leave themselves open at the back. The want-away Spurs forward has an impressive record against the newly-crowned FA Cup winners, scoring 14 goals in 11 Premier League meetings.
Encouragingly for those backing Kane, influential centre-half Jonny Evans (£5.6m) is set to sit out the King Power clash with injury. His presence at the back was sorely missed in the 4-2 home defeat to Newcastle United in Gameweek 35:
[The injury to Jonny Evans was] very disruptive. He’s a great talker. With Caglar and Wesley, they are both fantastic talents but Jonny is the brain in there and he organises them so for him to come out was a big blow for us.– Brendan Rodgers, after the Gameweek 35 defeat to Newcastle
Elsewhere, Michail Antonio (£6.7m) boasts impressive underlying stats for West Ham’s clash with Southampton.
Over the last four matches, no forward has registered a higher xG non-penalty (2.52) than the Hammers forward.– Zophar
And Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side have not done well on the road:
Nine defeats for Southampton in their 10 away league fixtures this calendar year. The Saints, who travel to West Ham United this weekend, have conceded 30 goals in these nine defeats, scoring just seven in return. Their sole win on the road in 2021 was at relegated Sheffield United.– Big Numbers
Don’t Look Back in Anger
Pro Pundits Simon March and Lateriser were both in reflective mood ahead of the season finale.Simon counselled on the perils of hindsight bias, while Lateriser rued his early season overconfidence.
“We are more likely to apply hindsight to negative outcomes than positive ones … The key to overcoming hindsight bias is learning to evaluate decisions based on their logic rather than their outcome. Rationally-speaking, the outcome should be irrelevant if the logic used in the decision-making process was sound.” – Simon March
And this is where Lateriser feels he let himself down at times, believing he could create whatever narrative he wanted and going against logic. He cited the example of ignoring Mohamed Salah in Gameweek 1 when Liverpool took on newly-promoted Leeds United.
All the same, the three time top 200 manager is still in love with FPL.
“I was actually very surprised by how much I enjoyed a green arrow despite the poor rank. It gave me genuine delight and that little bit of a good run I had in the past few Gameweeks.” – Lateriser
Community Competitions and Head-to-Head Fixtures
Following the quick turnaround of recent weeks, Neale recapped on the winners of our two cup competitions. Congratulations to Genovoze and Mohd Rodzi on their respective triumphs in the FFS Open Cup and FFS Members Cup.
And well done to Jambo17 who added a third-place finish in the FFS Open Cup to his 2018/19 runners-up spot in the Members Cup. Likewise Rossaldinho, who overcame SUNFLOWER to take the bronze medal in this year’s Members Cup.
RedLightning brought us his regular update on the community competitions, which included a look at the Grand Final of Last Man Standing.
The competition, run every year by TorresMagic, eliminates the lowest-scoring managers each Gameweek until just four managers remain to battle it out in the final round.
The Hsuper One adds his name to the list of winners after overcoming Robert Tuck (aka COVID-CASUAL), Steven Schelk (aka The Suspended One), and Amit Sharma in Gameweek 37. Many congratulations to him.
And despite his cup success Callum Croal (aka Jambo17) will be one of the ten managers relegated from the top division in our Head-to-Head Leagues.
Gameweek 38 sees David Arblaster, in eleventh, take on Richard Clarke, in tenth, to decide the final relegation spot. Meanwhile Aleksander Våge Nilsen (aka AleksanderVN) will be hoping for a win or a draw to ensure he claims the ultimate prize of Head-to-Head League Champion. Ville Tuominen (aka Santigold) lies in wait should he slip up.
The Head-to-Head fixtures for Gameweek 38 can be found below.
The scores and tables update every night on the Head-to-Head Leagues main page so you can keep track of the action as the Gameweek unfolds.
For the last time this season, may your arrows be green!