After 16 consecutive Thursday nights spent touring the UK and around Europe, the 2019 Premier League reaches its conclusion tonight at The O2 Arena, in London.
Michael van Gerwen, the world number one, is bidding to win the Premier League for a fifth time, and move just one short of Phil Taylor’s record of six titles. A victory tonight would see him equal Taylor’s run of four straight titles (2005-2009) – van Gerwen has got his hands on the Premier League crown in each of the last three years.
The players standing in his way tonight, of which the Dutchman will have to play two of them, are the world numbers two, four and nine, Rob Cross, Daryl Gurney and James Wade. Opening the night will be van Gerwen’s semi-final clash with Gurney, while the victor then meets either Cross or Wade in the finale later on in the evening.
There was a sense of the unknown as we entered this year’s Premier League. Gary Anderson, a two-time winner of this event and in many observers’ eyes van Gerwen’s main rival, when he is fully fit, pulled out with a back injury, and up stepped nine ‘Contenders’ to fill his place.
What has transpired over the last 16 weeks is arguably the tightest race to qualify for the season-ending play-offs in the tournament’s 14-year history.
As we entered the last night of the league phase in Leeds seven days ago, two of the four play-off spots were yet to be decided, but also top spot was still up for grabs, with van Gerwen snatching the £25,000 bonus after Cross lost to Wade in the final game of the night.
The permutations have been rife in the Premier League over the last few weeks, but now for the four men left standing the equation is simple: win two games tonight and you go home £250,000 richer and with the Premier League trophy.
At the start of the Premier League, before a dart had even been thrown, van Gerwen boldly proclaimed he wanted to finish top of the table by a bigger margin than he had ever done before, but nine dropped points meant he had to rely on Wade denying Cross a victory in Leeds to end the league phase at the summit.
Despite that, the defending champion is an odds-on favourite to make it four on the spin at The O2 tonight. He has never lost a semi-final in the Premier League, reaching the final on all six occasions he has appeared at the play-offs.
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Gurney, the man tasked with ending that perfect run, could perhaps hold the key to ending van Gerwen’s dominance on finals night. The Northern Irishman beat him twice in the Premier League phase, and coupled with that victory when the two met in the Players Championship Finals decider, that makes it three consecutive wins for Gurney against the favourite on TV.
To extend that streak is a big ask, but Gurney has proven that he can stand toe-to-toe with the best player in the world and beat him.
The other semi-final, just like the bookmakers have suggested, is more of a pick-em. Wade has took three points off van Gerwen in the Premier League, but his record in finals against him does not make for pretty reading: P11 W0 L11. If the two meet in the final tonight, there would not be many better places to end that run.
Cross has also claimed the scalp of van Gerwen before, most notably in that World Championship semi-final thriller a little over a year ago, while more recently in a World Series final last summer. The former world champion has suffered two heavy defeats to van Gerwen in this year’s Premier League, though, the scars of which would fade away were he to overcome him in tonight’s finale.
2019 Premier League Play-Offs
Michael van Gerwen v Daryl Gurney
Rob Cross v James Wade
Van Gerwen/Gurney v Cross/Wade