It may be starting a little later in the year than usual, and every match being held at the same venue, but the Premier League is back!
Darts’ biggest roadshow, and most lucrative non-ranking event, gets under way at the Marshall Arena, in Milton Keynes, on Monday.
A new world number one. Three former winners. Three former finalists. Three debutants. SAM CARTER takes a gaze into his crystal ball to predict the final table…
10th – Rob Cross
Choosing which player will finish bottom of the pile is, in my opinion, harder than picking a winner, but on this occasion, I’m going to with Rob Cross.
Cross will have been watching the recent World Championship final between Gary Anderson and Gerwyn Price with interest.
Many would argue he has Price to thank for even being in the tournament, because if Anderson would have won, Cross would have dropped out of the top four in the rankings, meaning no automatic spot in the tournament.
With no big trophy in the cabinet or big ranking finals last season, you were probably then looking to other names lower down the rankings to take Voltage’s spot in this year’s Premier League.
It is an unspoken rule in all sports that you always need to beware of the person who is not expecting to be in the tournament, or is perhaps fortunate to be in. These players usually go in with the least pressure.
However, Cross faces an ominous dip in the rankings if he does not pick up big ranking money this season, and I believe that will be his focus for 2021.
I’m not underestimating Cross, and it definitely wouldn’t shock me if he proved me wrong, but a lack of form, different priorities and perhaps more hungry players around him leaves me with not a lot of choice but to say that we’ll be saying goodbye to Cross in the Premier League after Judgement Night.
9th – Glen Durrant
Whereas his English counterpart Cross had to perhaps rely on other players getting him into the event, Glen Durrant’s qualification was quite the opposite.
The Middlesbrough man returns as the defending Premier League champion, becoming only the third man aside from Phil Taylor and Michael van Gerwen to win both the league stage and the play-Offs in the same season, scooping an eye watering £275,000.
Durrant has not had a good time of it since winning the Premier League, only winning two of his seven matches on TV since, and not lighting up the Players Championships circuit either.
For the first time in Duzza’s PDC career, he is in a situation of needing to watch his place in the Order of Merit, as his exploits from two years ago start to whittle away from his ranking and, similar to Cross, an event of this nature may not be Durrant’s priority this year.
I have read a couple of articles surrounding Durrant where pundits are saying he needs to prove himself this year, which is something I certainly don’t believe.
I’ve heard Durrant in interviews where he has stated that he is not going to go too deep into his 50s playing professional darts, so I feel the pressure is off for the 50-year-old.
With that being said, his recent lack of results and low averages means I cannot give him a high placing on my predicted final league table.
8th – Dimitri Van den Bergh
The World Matchplay champion is someone who I have covered in my short darts writing career quite a bit, not for the best of reasons as he has had a somewhat disappointing start to the 2021 season.
This will be Van den Bergh’s first full season in the Premier League, although he did appear in Rotterdam as a contender in 2019, holding James Wade to a 6-6 draw in Rotterdam.
It’s no secret that The Dream Maker usually performs better on stage than on the floor, and I do think that the youngest man in the field will do enough to avoid the bottom two here.
His aim for me will be to try and do enough to convince the PDC and Sky that he deserves a wildcard spot for next year, providing he does not make the top four in that time.
Van Den Bergh certainly seems like a player that would thrive in the razzamatazz of a full Premier League season in sold out arenas across Europe.
At 26 years of age, time is certainly on his side and I believe finishing eighth would not be a bad outcome for him, surrounded as he is by players with so much more Premier League experience than him.
7th – Jose De Sousa
From one debutant to another. Jose De Sousa qualified for his maiden Premier League season as a result of his fantastic tournament win at the Grand Slam, and is having a better season so far than most of the players in this year’s Premier League.
De Sousa will go in and fear no-one and is always good value to watch, despite some unorthodox ways of winning legs at times.
I expect the Portuguese number one to settle into life in the Premier League nicely and avoid getting relegated out of the event on Judgement Night, but I also think he will fall short of qualification for the play-offs.
I just think that his mistakes will be punished more often than not, and that the shorter format games will not always be to his liking, but like everyone in the tournament he is there on merit and The Special One is not to be discounted.
6th – Nathan Aspinall
Nathan Aspinall, last year’s beaten finalist had quite the 2020 Premier League campaign; winning several matches where he went in as the outsider and losing several where he went in as the favourite.
The Asp managed to finish third in the league stage and defeated Peter Wright 10-7 in the semi-finals.
He went on to face table topper, and fellow debutant, Glen Durrant in the final, but could not pick up his second TV major, losing 11-8 to Duzza.
I expect Aspinall to be a mainstay in the Premier League for at least the next decade, but I also expect him to have a relatively quiet season here, coming up short on making the play-offs for the second time in a row.
Aspinall is another player that I believe feeds on a packed, sold out crowd and, whilst he is in slightly better form than some of his fellow Premier League combatants, he certainly has not done all that much to catch the eye and I expect his placing in this year’s table to reflect that.
Listen to the latest episode of the Weekly Dartscast podcast for our Premier League season preview with special guests Glen Durrant, Steve Brown and Chas Barstow
5th – Gary Anderson
Gary Anderson is embarking on his 10th Premier League campaign this year, and has the dubious honour of being one of only two men to have won the event and also finish bottom of the league table.
Anderson has made the finals night on seven out of nine occasions but is not among the bookies’ favourites to make it eight out of 10.
Another man who has been poor throughout this season, Anderson repeatedly vowed last year that this season was going to be one of his best yet, a claim that has yet to have been backed up.
The Flying Scotsman is for me the hardest player to place this year and any position barring top of the league would not come as a shock to me.
Anderson’s experience, quality and big match temperament should certainly see him still in the tournament after Judgement Night, but his lack of form, and his tendency to be occasionally distracted by darting politics, lead me to believe that he will narrowly miss out on the top four come late May.
4th – Peter Wright
Peter Wright has had a turbulent season so far. On one hand winning the most recent Players Championship title and getting to the semi-finals of the Masters, while on the other hand having a disappointing run in some of the Players Championships events and getting put out of the UK Open in his first match against Dave Chisnall.
Wright is in his eighth consecutive Premier League and, unlike Anderson, does not have a great strike rate in the event, being eliminated after Judgement Night once and only making the finals night twice (most notably getting to the final in 2017 and missing six match darts).
But I think that the oldest man in the tournament will do enough to get in the top four on this occasion, despite the Premier League not taking place in the surroundings that Snakebite has become accustomed too.
3rd – Jonny Clayton
Jonny Clayton is in fantastic form this season. This will be Clayton’s first full season in the Premier League, although he did appear as a challenger in his home country last year, losing 7-1 to Michael Smith in Cardiff.
The Ferret is a different animal since then though, winning the World Cup with Gerwyn Price, two Players Championship titles and perhaps most importantly the event that sealed his spot in the Premier League, the Masters.
As with the other debutants, it is a shame for Clayton that he will not have his first full season in front of a packed crowd week in week out across Europe, but I expect him to make the best of an unfortunate situation and match the achievements of Glen Durrant and Nathan Aspinall last year by getting to the play-offs in his first full year.
It is unclear for now as to whether Clayton’s exceptional form will keep up all the way through the season, but if the last couple of months are anything to go by, Clayton is in for a strong start to the season at the very least.
2nd – Michael van Gerwen
Michael van Gerwen is many bookmakers’ favourite to lift the title, having won the Premier League on five occasions before.
He needs just one more to equal the six Premier Leagues won by Phil Taylor and will be keen to put last year’s disastrous campaign behind him, as he failed to reach the final for the first time in eight attempts.
Van Gerwen is still for my money the most capable player in the world on his day but needs to find some consistency as “his day” is becoming less frequent.
There is less form in the formbook for MVG than anyone else in the tournament as he elected not to take part in the second Super Series of the season a few weeks ago.
Mighty Mike is the least fancied he has been for several years to pick up big titles, and yet is still the favourite to win the event with the title sponsors Unibet, albeit at a higher-than-normal price of 5/2 at the time of writing.
I think MVG is becoming a bit of a wounded animal. He will be getting sick of not being introduced by John McDonald as the world number one and will be looking to regain that status as soon as possible.
Despite the Premier League not being a ranking event, there is no reason why MVG’s journey back to the top cannot begin here and, while I expect him to come runner-up in the league stage, I agree with the bookies in thinking he will take the trophy home on May 28.
1st – Gerwyn Price
It might be a bit of a safe pick, or maybe even a boring pick to some people, but I cannot go against my gut instinct.
This is Gerwyn Price’s fourth Premier League campaign in a row, debuting in 2018 as a brash and entertaining rookie, who perhaps made the field more for entertainment value rather than being a big name or a winner of a major event.
Price finished bottom of the table that year and was not looking good for a return to the Premier League the following year, until he won the Grand Slam.
Playing Price is a different prospect now to what it was back then, him being the reigning world champion and world number one.
He will be looking to put to bed his record of not making the play-offs in three attempts. Two semi-finals on TV, and a Players Championship win, means he is in better form than a lot of his peers this season, and my prediction is that he will romp to first spot and stay there.