Big time darts returns to our screens on Thursday with 15 consecutive weeks of action upcoming as the Premier League Darts bandwagon rolls around the UK and Ireland. A new format to the event is debuting this year with ten players lined up to compete playing each other once during weeks 1 to 9 before the line up is whittled down to the top 8 in league who will then battle it out for 4 places available for finals night at London’s O2 arena.
It’s a testament to the depth of quality in PDC darts that they are able to put together 10 players who potentially could prove to extremely closely matched over the next 9 weeks. All this makes for a fantastic 15 weeks of action in prospect, but who will come out on top over the first 14 weeks to seal one of the four places for finals night, here are my predictions for 4 players to fill the top 4 places come the end of week 14.
1st – Phil Taylor (World Number 1)
As you would expect from the man who has dominated Darts for the last 20 years, Taylor’s Premier League record is exceptional, he has won the event 6 times and his match record reads Won 99, Drawn 15, Lost 8. He remains the man to beat in this event and his recent tv successes in the World Championship and World Cup show that his game is in razor-sharp condition, he is clearly the most consistent player in the field over this format and looks the smart choice to top the league standings come to the end of week 14.
2nd – Michael Van Gerwen (World Number 4)
For 6 sets in the World Championship final it looked as though it would be a changing of the guard with Van Gerwen lifting the crown, however Phil Taylor had other ideas. That defeat should detract from the form shown by Van Gerwen in the last 6 months and he is fully established as a one of the best players in the world. This format should suit MVG, the crowd interaction and pace of the matches will be work to his benefit and I think there will be little between him and Taylor. The difference will be slight in my opinion but I feel MVG has more potential to lose the odd match than Taylor.
3rd – James Wade (World Number 3)
Wade defied a lot of his critics during the World Championships by reaching the Semi-Finals. It would be fair to say it was more a case that his results defied his critics rather than his performances as he ground his way to the Semi-Finals before succumbing to MVG but gaining a lot of credit in defeat. His Premier League record is impressive, he has only failed to reach the finals night once in his 6 appears and this came in 2011 when he finished 1 point out of the top 4 despite his problems off the oche. He is known for his love of matchplay darts and his ability to ground out victories will make him tough to beat in a format he loves.
4th – Simon Whitlock (World Number 5)
Whitlock was runner-up to Phil Taylor last year and he continued his good form throughout 2012. He posted his first major tournament success in the PDC when winning the European Championships last September, his only real blemish was his inconsistency in other major tournaments, That said he looks well placed to reach his second consecutive finals night, he is consistent both with his scoring and on the doubles, which I think will be the difference between him and his nearest challengers for 4th place.
In all honesty with the exception of Taylor and MVG, who I think will sweep all before them over the next 14 weeks, you could make an argument for any of the other 8 players filling the two other play off places, personally I think Wade and Whitlock look the most solid shouts for it based on their games and records in the event. Thornton would rate as a danger if his performances in the World Cup of Darts were a one-off but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Newton and Anderson struggle and be the two to be relegated after week 9.
So turning to the opening week’s line up of matches which comes from Belfast’s Odyssey Arena and we have 5 interesting clashes for various reasons. Topping the bill is a repeat of the World Championship Final between Phil Taylor and Michael Van Gerwen, there are two other repeats from the World Championships matches with Raymond Van Barneveld and Gary Anderson, and James Wade and Wes Newton meeting again. Here are my thoughts on each of the 5 matches this week.
Andy Hamilton Vs Robert Thornton
The opening contest of the evening looks to be a really tough contest to call with both players being dogged battlers. A year Hamilton was in the same position as Thornton finds himself in, that of the new boy that everyone expects to struggle, however he belied those doubters to reach the finals night with a string of gritty performances. As such it is foolish to write of Thornton who, despite disappointing last weekend in the World Cup, has been very consistent a matching his opponents level over the last 6 months. I see this one going the full 12 legs with Thornton shading it. Prediction 7-5 Thornton
James Wade Vs Wes Newton
This could be a really good second match both players will be bang up for this match with both wanting to prove a point for different reasons. Wade will be wanting to prove he can produce the performances to go along with the results he gain at Alexandra Palace, Newton will want to prove he belongs in this competition. And as much as both players will feel they can win this match I would favour Wade, who has a very good record against Newton and I think he can maintain that here and make the ideal start to his campaign by preying on Newton’s fallibility against top 8 players. Prediction 7-4 Wade
Raymond Van Barneveld Vs Gary Anderson
Any match between Barney and Anderson has the potential to steal the show, at their best they are a joy to watch, sadly their recent World Championship clash was a disappointment with Barney hammering a below-par Anderson. There was little encouragement for Anderson’s fans at the World Cup Of Darts as he looked sluggish and his scoring power was missing, a repetition of that will see him being beaten in convincing fashion by Barney. I would not to say there are not question marks about Barney, as it is not clear if he will be really up for this event, either way I think he will beat Anderson with a degree of ease which could act as a prelude for a tough season for Anderson. Prediction 7-3 Barneveld
Simon Whitlock Vs Adrian Lewis
On paper, you would have Lewis done as a clear favourite for this match but his recent form, or in fairness his form over the last 12 months has been very patchy to say the least and there is no indication of what sort of form he will bring to the stage this week. Whitlock has been the master of consistency in the last 6 months but perhaps has failed to deliver the goods in key matches, he will feel this is a great opportunity to claim 2 points early in the season against a potential rival for a finals night spot. As for Lewis, he needs to start getting his darts to the talking not his blown up claims of being the best. Prediction Whitlock 7-4
Phil Taylor Vs Michael Van Gerwen
What a way to round of the night with a repeat of the World Championship Final, even over the shortened format I expect this to be a classic. Frankly, there is little between these two players and it is quite possible that the two matches between them decide who finishes 1st and 2nd in the league stage. Taylor looked imperious at the World Cup Of Darts and he carried England to victory in many respects, Van Gerwen probably didn’t enjoy the doubles format a great deal and didn’t look overly serious about the whole event which was a surprise. This should be a nip and tuck affair with Taylor consistency just shading it. Prediction 7-5 Taylor.