Tonight marks the start of the tenth Premier League Darts, an event which has risen in prestige to the second most converted title on the PDC calendar after the World Championships. Ten players will compete for the title in weekly events every Thursday from now till the finals night at the O2 in London at the end of May. Last year I was fortunate enough to have a great night at the Newcastle leg of the tournament and I already can’t wait for it again this year.
In 2013 the event was expanded from eight to ten players, a format which sees all ten players meeting each other once over the first nine nights of darts, with the bottom two players then leaving the competition. The eight remaining play each other again to try and secure a top four spot for finals night in London.
The line-up of players selected has brought much discussion among the darting world with James Wade the most notable name to miss out. The top four players on the PDC order of Merit automatically qualified, Michael Van Gerwen, Phil Taylor, Simon Whitlock and Adrian Lewis. The PDC picked four wildcards, Dave Chisnall, Peter Wright, Wes Newton and Robert Thorton. With the final two picks coming from Sky Sports, Raymond Van Barenveld and Gary Anderson.
The controversial decision to leave Wade out was met with surprise as he has appeared in the previous six premier league competitions, including 2009 when he won the tournament. During PDC chairman Barry Hearns interview in which he announced the line-up, he stated Wade had been given a rest to enable him more time to gain treatment for his health issues, a statement that Wade strongly disagreed with. Elsewhere Andy Hamilton and Kim Huybrechts both also missed on a place.
The competition as always will favour the most consistent players over the fifteen weeks with the opening event coming from Liverpool. Below is my quick guide to the ten players in the event.
Michael Ver Gerwen – Premier League Champion Odds(Skybet) – 7/4
Prediction – Winner
The favourite for the 2014 premier league crown is last year’s champion Michael Van Gerwen. Having dominated the league last year, becoming the first player other than Phil Taylor to win the league stage, he went on to be crowned champion. Following his premier league win Michael went on to have a fantastic year, which was capped off when he claimed his first World Championship at the Ally Pally on New Year’s Day. As well as winning the Premier League and World Championship, Van Gerwen also claimed the Players Championship after beating Phil Taylor in the final. Irrespective of where he finishes after the league phase, as long as he finishes in the top four he will be favourite to go on to the win the title and I fully expect him to do so. In the opening event of the year, the German Darts Championship he lost in the quarter finals to fellow Dutchman Jelle Klaasen, 6-5.
Phil Taylor – Premier League Champion Odds –2/1
Prediction – Semi Finals
The Power will be hungry for success after seeing three notable titles slip from his grasp in the past year, The Premier League and World Championship crowns, as well as his world number one spot on the order of merit. In the past week Phil has announced that he has switched his sponsor to Target Darts ending his long association with Unicorn. The five year deal will see Taylor remain on the circuit for the time being and at least for now quieten talk on his retirement. The switch means Taylor will not have had much practice with his latest set of Darts before he faces Van Gerwen on the opening night in Liverpool, but it still should be the highlight of the night. Phil has proved over the years though that he is capable of coming back when people have doubted him and he is far from finished. In terms of tournaments won he still managed to win six titles since last year’s competition, including the UK Open, the World Matchplay, World Grand Prix and the Grand Slam. The World Matchplay final in which he beat Adrian Lewis must stand out as a highlight for any darts fan from 2013 with the quality on show in the match.
Taylor is too good a player to miss out on the semi’s and he will ease into the top four and a place at the O2.
Adrian Lewis – Premier League Champion Odds –4/1
Pediction –Runner Up
Adrian Lewis is considered by most to be the third best player in the world, behind Van Gerwen and Taylor. Lewis had an up and down year in 2013, but finished strongly in the final few months. He first reached the World Match Play final beating Van Gerwen on route to the final before losing to Phil Taylor. He also performed well at the World Championships before being blown away in the semi-finals by Van Gerwen. The two time World Champion has always been comfortable on the big stage, as he has shown winning the world championship twice, but has yet to enjoy success in the premier league competition. In his six appearances so far he has only progressed from the group stages twice, in 2008 and 2011 when he lost to Gary Anderson in the final. In last year’s competition Lewis struggled throughout only winning four of his sixteen matches to finish eighth.
Lewis should be capable of following on from where he finished 2013 and show the potential everyone knows he has. My prediction is that he will come through the group stage in second or third and squeeze through to the final.
Simon Whitlock goes into the tournament as the number three in the world and rightfully so, he is one of the most consistent players on the circuit and always performs at a similar level. While this has seen him fail to land a major tv title so far, he consistently reaches the later stages of tournaments and I think he will reach the semi-finals in the premier league. With a lot of players in the competition very good at their best, but inconsistent at the moment, I think he will be able to grab the fourth spot at the O2. He reached the final of this tournament two years ago before losing to Taylor and in the recent World Championships managed to reach the semi-finals, losing to Peter Wright.
Gary Anderson is my outside tip to do well in premier league and could push for a semi-final place having picked up a little bit of form in recent months. A good showing at the World Championships in which he should have beaten Van Gerwen, was followed by a tournament win in Germany last weekend which will hopefully give him the confidence he sometimes lacks.
Peter Wright should come into the Premier League flying high after being runner up in the World Championships and a character like his is made for this event in which he will get the crowd going in every venue. If he shows his form from the Worlds he like Anderson will challenge for a semi-final spot.
Raymond Van Barneveld had a very mixed bag in 2013 and he could turn up a different player every week, but one thing is for certain it will be great to see him in the league once again. No player is more popular amongst the fans and no matter if Barney is winning or losing he always has the crowd on his side week in week out. If he can re-create some of his form from last year’s premier league he may have a chance.
Robert Thorton is often overlooked, but like Simon Whitlock is a very consistent performer who has showed in the past that he can win a tv major. He performed well in this competition last year only just missing out on the top four.
Wes Newton is not in the top eight in the world for no reason and he has retained his place in the premier league despite a poor showing last year in which he finished second bottom. It will do his confidence the world of good to be back in it again and the experience from last year should give him a better shot this time around.
Finally Dave Chisnall makes his first appearance in a competition which he could have been involved in long before now. Chisnall is fifth on the order of merit rankings and was runner up to Taylor in the World Grand Prix last year. He will be wrote off by most in the completion, but with his scoring power he may be able to spring a surprise or two even if he will struggle to make the top four.