Our guide for Thursday night's action in Premier League Darts includes bets for the season, match-by-match predictions, order of playm Sky Bet odds and a suggested acca.
- Are nine replacements better than one?
- 2019 Premier League darts fixtures
- Gerwyn Price interview
- Michael Smith interview
- Listen to the Sporting Life Darts Podcast
- Follow @ChrisHammer180 on Twitter
Take a deep breath because the darts season is about to pick up pace with the new Unibet Premier League Darts season as Michael van Gerwen bids to win this tournament for the fourth year in a row and fifth time in total.
Having quashed the critics who claimed his dominance was on the wane by reclaiming the world title without really breaking sweat and then comfortably winning a fifth successive Masters crown at the weekend when only in third gear, he's unsurprisingly back to odds-on prices again.
Gary Anderson's injury-enforced withdrawal saw his odds shorten further to 1/2 and it goes without saying he'll be at the O2 on Finals Night in 17 weeks' time.
Many feel MVG also has one of the softer 'Gary Anderson replacements' in John Henderson - although that's perhaps a tad disrespectful to John Henderson considering he's technically the highest ranked of the nine guest players, who'll take it in turns to feature weekly until Judgement Night.
Regardless what's happened over the past six weeks, he's still someway short from his imperious best of 2015-2017 when he consistently recorded those silly averages and last year there were plenty of occasions on the big stages when he became unstuck. Not least the last major before the worlds at the Players Championship Finals, when Daryl Gurney out fought him.
In Anderson's absence, world championship runner-up Michael Smith is arguably the second best player right now in the field, despite his Order of Merit ranking of six, as he seems the most confident and able to string together those 100+ averages on a consistent basis.
Sure, Smith fell short of doing just that when he needed to most against MVG at the Ally Pally but as the St Helens man explained in our interview last week, he let sight of the trophy on the stage get the better of him and 'tried too much'.
Last year Bully Boy reached more TV finals than he ever has before - five - including the Premier League and while he only managed to win one of them in Shanghai, he's learning from those experiences and I'm firmly of the belief that it's just a matter of time before he lands a big one.
Obviously, at four months long, this event goes on longer than any other by a country mile (although some will say the world championship ran it close!) so having a bet now on an overall winner is taking a big chance that they happen to hit a purple patch on May 23, as well as having been consistent enough to get there.
Rob Cross (Brisbane final), Smith (Shanghai semis), Barney (World Series Finals QFs & Premier League), Peter Wright (Champions League SFs, Melbourne SFs, Premier League x2), James Wade (US Darts Masters QF) and Gurney (Players Championship Finals, final), all managed to defeat him in televised competitions last year so whoever books their spot at the O2 shouldn't feel without a chance.
Any of the nine permanent players can finish in that top four and the fact that 50/1 tournament outsiders Raymond van Barneveld and Gerwyn Price are both just 3/1 to reach the play-offs tells it's own story about the competitiveness of the field.
I know some might say I'm mad given the poor 2018 he endured, but I can't help but think Barney is worth a small flutter at 50/1.
The Dutch legend needs to make the most of this farewell tour because it's going to be very tough for him to qualify many of the other big TV majors in his final season before retirement due to his alarming ranking slide following the World Championship.
He said: "I have to start from scratch again. That means I have to work really hard on the pro tour to get back in the top 16 or top 32 and qualify for the World Championship. I've practiced hard, had a lot of things to think about in the last few weeks after a bad day at the office at the World Championship.
"(It will be) Really emotional to say goodbye. I have a private life as well and 35 years in this business, stress every single week, travelling every single week. I want to be Raymond again, not Barney."
During our Sporting Life Darts Podcast, van Barneveld also spoke of his frustration at having such a long trophy drought and not even the honour of being such a long-lasting peoples' champion seems to make up for that, sadly.
This could be his last proper chance to win a prestigious title and who knows what having a fixed retirement date may do for his determination. After all, Phil Taylor used the same motivation to win a World Matchplay title and reach a World Championship in his farewell year.
Barney did concede that Taylor did at least know he'd be in the big tournaments when he announced but perhaps, despite the strains of the necessary travelling to do so, competing regularly on the Pro Tour will add some much needed sharpness and consistency to his play.
If he can scrape into that top four then we know he has the magic on a one-off basis to beat MVG - and we even saw evidence of that twice last year on that amazing night in Rotterdam and also November's World Series of Darts Finals.
Premier League Season: Recommended Bets
- 1pt Michael Smith to win the Premier League at 8/1
- 1pt each-way Raymond van Barneveld at 50/1
Premier League Night One: Thursday February 7
Click on the odds for more Sky Bet match markets
- TV Coverage: Sky Sports (1900 GMT)
- Format: Maximum of 12 legs
Treble: Raymond van Barneveld, Daryl Gurney and Rob Cross all to win at 12.72/1
Four Fold: Raymond van Barneveld, Daryl Gurney, Chris Dobey and Rob Cross all to win at 54/1
Head-to-head: 22-25 (4 draws)
2018 Meetings: 1-0
PDC Titles in 2018: 2-0
Career Titles: 30-41
James Wade is marginal favourite to get his Premier League return off to a winning start having reached three televised finals in his last six tournaments.
He won two of those, of course, at the European Championship and World Series of Darts Finals late last year while he showcased his trademark timing again by reaching Sunday's Masters final, only to lose to Michael van Gerwen.
However, he's the first to admit his game is doing nothing more than 'moving in the right direction' at the moment and there's nothing really for Barney to fear as he bids to make a positive start to his retirement season.
The Dutchman has been practicing hard following his Ally Pally woes and it should be a lot closer than their last meeting at the World Series, which Wade won 11-2 after Barney had spent all his energy dethroning MVG.
Barney is 6/5 in the draw no bet market while the 6/1 about a 7-5 scoreline is also appealing.
Scoreline prediction: 7-5
Suggested bet: Barney 6/5 draw no bet
Head-to-head: 7-1 (1 draw)
2018 Meetings: 2-0 (1 draw)
PDC Titles in 2018: 2-1
Career Titles: 4-3
Gerwyn Price has such a great record against Daryl Gurney you have to wonder of SuperChin is one of the players who is intimidated by the controversial Welshman's fiery showmanship.
However Price admitted on our podcast that he'll need to tone down his celebrations and play his 'B Game' now due to the suspended three-month ban handed to him in the wake of 'that' Grand Slam of Darts final victory over Gary Anderson last November.
You could say that's like Samson losing his hair and he certainly cut a rather subdued figure when tamely losing to Wade at the Masters on Saturday night.
Price has vowed to focus much harder on his second Premier League season than he did in the first but I'm concerned he might be putting too much pressure on himself to get off to a good start - and Gurney can capitalise in a battle between two recent major winners.
The Northern Irishman is a prolific 180 hitter and you can get him at 3/1 to win the match and hit four or more maximums.
Scoreline prediction: 4-7
Suggested bet: Gurney to win and hit four or more 180s at 3/1
2018 Meetings: N/A
PDC Titles in 2018: 0-2
Career Titles: 0-5
Chris Dobey makes history on Thursday night by becoming the first 'Gary Anderson replacement' and I think he's a great bet to mark the occasion with a victory.
Although none of the replacements have anything to play for from a tournament perspective, it's a lot different than having nothing to play for because you've drifted into mid table obscurity. If that makes any sense.
They're all getting their first taste of the Premier League experience and can afford to go out there all guns blazing with absolutely nothing to fear or lose. In many cases, like Dobey, they have been given the chance to impress in front of their home fans so they'll get huge reception, especially when in an underdog role.
But irrespective of all the above, Hollywood shouldn't be considered such an outsider given his recent performances at the World Championship, where he came so close to defeating Gary Anderson in a thrilling fourth-round clash.
The 28-year-old played like a star in the making that night having already done so well to get that far, and it could prove to be a career defining moment as he looks to fulfil his undoubted potential.
Obviously Mensur Suljovic can be a class act, as we saw when he averaged 106 in the first round of the Masters last Friday, but he can blow cold without much warning, such as in his second-round exit to Ryan Searle at the Ally Pally.
Dobey is big enough at 3/1 but if you want to be greedy how about the 6/1 on him to win, hit three or more 18-s and have a checkout of 70.5. Those are modest targets which he should achieve if he beats a player of the calibre of Suljovic.
Scoreline prediction: 7-5
Suggested bet: Dobey to win at 3/1 or Dobey to win, hit 3+ 180s and have a checkout of 70.5 at 6/1
2018 Meetings: 8-2
PDC Titles in 2018: 19-3
Career Titles: 118-11
As mentioned in the season preview above, Michael van Gerwen should not be regarded as being back to his dominant best quite yet and I expect this one to be a close tussle.
Michael Smith is the closest challenger to MVG right now in the absence of Gary Anderson so it's a shame he saved his worst performance of the World Championship for the final. It could have been a real classic had he managed to produce yet another 100 average to rival the world number one.
Bully Boy will be out to gain a measure of revenge on Thursday night and prove he's a serious rival to MVG but while I'm not sure he'll get the win, he's worth backing on the handicap.
Smith admitted he was just using the Masters as preparation for the Premier League having been short of practice due to his honeymoon in January but he didn't look that rusty when averaging over 100 in his first-round win.
He did, however, drop a level in losing to Peter Wright in the quarter-finals but he'll be back on point for Thursday night.
Scoreline prediction: 7-5
Suggested bet: Michael Smith (+2.5 legs) at 1/1
Head-to-head: 5-7 (1 draw)
2018 Meetings: 2-5 (1 draw)
PDC Titles in 2018: 2-2
Career Titles: 22-7
The bookies can't call this battle between two players who are looking to make a positive start to the new season after a difficult 2018.
To be fair to Rob Cross, his year the most hectic of his life following his remarkably rapid rise to world champion and he probably wasn't ready for all the pressures, attention and globe-trotting travelling that went with it.
He's still only young and learning what it takes to consistently produce your best on all the big stages, so it's insanely harsh to even suggest the possibility of him being a one season wonder. He's very much here to stay and as the years go on, he'll undoubtedly get stronger.
As far as Thursday night is concerned, I'm going to give the edge to Voltage for this one.
He's got a superior head-to-head record, winning five of their eight meetings last year, which included a Premier League draw, and although Wright progressed further at the Masters, I don't think there's much to split their performance levels.
Scoreline prediction: 4-7
Suggested bet: Cross to win and hit most 180s at 3/1