The new Premier League Darts season gets under way in Aberdeen on Thursday night and we have match-by-match predictions, best bets and suggested accas.
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It's that time of year when the great sport of darts reclaims its ownership of Thursday nights, as nine of the world's best players begin what they hope will be a 17-week long journey to Premier League glory at the O2 on May 21.
The not so secret to success - as brilliantly demonstrated in the past by both six-time champion Phil Taylor and Michael van Gerwen, who is looking to equal the Power's record this year - is consistency over a four-month period just to reach the play-offs before having the ability to peak in explosive fashion on Finals Night.
Six of this year's field have made it to the O2, which is pretty high considering two are debutants, but only MVG, Gary Anderson and Rob Cross have managed it more than once.
Usually it's a certainty that van Gerwen will finish in the top four places having never failed to reach the final showdown in his seven incredible seasons but even the world number one could find himself in danger this year if he gets off to a slow start due to the potential struggles of adapting quickly to his much publicised change in darts.
The Dutchman is still clear favourite to lift the trophy for the fifth year in a row but world champion Peter Wright and Grand Slam of Darts king Gerwyn Price are widely expected to give him a real run for his money.
The other six players are obviously not without hope in what promises to be a fascinating season ahead, which will of course see a different 'Challenger' take to the oche each week like last year.
I'll run through each of the nine players in the field before match-by-match verdicts of opening night in Aberdeen...
MICHAEL VAN GERWEN
- Nickname: Mighty Mike
- Date of Birth: 25/04/1989
- Nationality: Dutch
- World Ranking: 1
- Walk-on music: Seven Nation Army, White Stripes
- Sky Bet odds: 1/1
- Career highlights: 3x World Champion (2014, 2017, 2019), 2x World Matchplay (2015, 2016), 5x Premier League (2013, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019), 5x World Grand Prix (2012, 2014, 2016, 2018, 2019), 2x UK Open (2015, 2016), 3x Grand Slam of Darts (2015, 2016, 2017), 4x European champion (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017), 5x Masters (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019), 5x Players Championship Finals ( 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019), 4x World Series of Darts (2015, 2016, 2017, 2019), Champions League of Darts (2019), 3x World Cup (2014, 2017, 2018) & over 80 other PDC titles
- Premier League record: 7 appearances, 5 titles, twice runner-up
The five-time champion is going for his fifth Premier League title in a row and will also be striving to maintain his proud record of topping the regular season for the eighth season in succession.
However, having lost his grip on the world title as well as his vice like mental grip on Peter Wright in finals on New Year's Day, he suffered a shock defeat to Jonny Clayton in his first match with a brand new set of darts at the Masters and now there's a general feeling that 2020 could be one of his most testing.
We've been here before though haven't we? Not with the change of darts, but with doubters questioning his dominance. And what does MVG do best on the rare occasions he gets knocked down?
Verdict: Slow start may ultimately cost him top spot but play-offs still seem highly likely
- Nickname: Snakebite
- Date of Birth: 10/03/1970
- Nationality: Scottish
- World Ranking: 2
- Walk-on music: Don't Stop The Party, Pitbull
- Sky Bet odds: 9/2
- Career highlights: World champion (2020), Masters (2020), UK Open (2017), World Cup (2019), 25 non-major PDC titles including Melbourne Darts Masters (2018) and German Darts Masters (2017, 2019).
- Premier League record: 6 appearances, 1x top-four finish, runner-up in 2017
Could this be a very belated start to a Peter Wright era of dominance?
After years of tinkering with his darts, a self-proclaimed 'new' Snakebite finally found the set that helped him fulfil a lifelong promise to become world champion by the age of 50 and he's still boasts a 100% record with them after winning the season-opening Masters at the weekend.
Wright survived three match darts in a deciding leg against major-less Michael Smith to do it but you could say that was rather fitting considering all those agonisingly near-misses he's suffered in finals down the years - not least the Premier League in 2017 when blowing six against MVG.
Having waited and practiced so hard to get to this position, there's no chance of Wright taking his foot off the gas whatsoever and it'll be fascinating to see during the opening weeks and months of the season whether he kicks on even further and if more opponents buckle under his triumphant aura.
Snakebite's record in this competition isn't great having only qualified for the play-offs once but beating van Gerwen in a final for the first time - on the biggest stage of all no-less - hasn't banished any mental demons, nothing will.
Verdict: Play-offs and at least a final spot
- Nickname: The Iceman
- Date of Birth: 07/03/1985
- Nationality: Welsh
- World Ranking: 3
- Walk-on music: Vanilla Ice, Ice Ice Baby
- Sky Bet odds: 7/1
- Career highlights: Grand Slam of Darts champion (2019, 2018), Seven non-televised PDC titles
- Premier League record: 2 appearances, best finish fifth (2019)
Gerwyn Price's 2019 was so impressive that he went into the World Championship as a short 3/1 second favourite and widely tipped to set up a 'dream' final with Michael van Gerwen.
The Grand Slam of Darts champion, who beat MVG before thrashing Peter Wright to defend that title in November, battled his way through to the last four at the Ally Pally with a string of inconsistent displays but sadly saved one of his worst performances of the season for his rematch with Snakebite.
Price allowed himself to be affected by Wright's early attempt at banter that night which is strange for a player who not only has been accused of gamesmanship before but has also overcome thousands of off-putting boos to get to where he is today.
The Welshman was soundly beaten 10-2 by Anderson for the first time since that infamous 2018 Grand Slam final when the pair met at the Masters, and although that's subsequently led to his Premier League odds being eased slightly, it would be a mistake to overreact too much.
Verdict: A big year ahead and 7/1 to lift the trophy has appeal right now
- Nickname: Voltage
- Date of Birth: 21/09/1990
- Nationality: English
- World Ranking: 4
- Walk-on music: Hot Hot Hot - Arrow
- Sky Bet odds: 12/1
- Career highlights: World champion (2018), World Matchplay (2019), European Championship (2019), Six other non-major PDC titles including Brisbane Darts Masters (2018)
- Premier League record: 2 appearances, two play-offs including runner-up (2019)
There’s a perception Rob Cross endured a disappointing 2019 after it ended badly at the World Championship with a crushing 3-0 defeat to Kim Huybrechts in the first round.
Failure to defend a huge chunk of the prize money he won at the Ally Pally as champion two years before that led to him dropping to fourth in the rankings but let's not forget he did win the World Matchplay last summer and the autumn's European Championship.
Sure, his Blackpool success was in no small part down to Daryl Gurney's capitulation in the semi-finals but he still had to hold his nerve before making it all count against Michael Smith.
Voltage has visibly lost a lot of weight recently - two stone in a month - and like MVG with his new darts, it may take time for him to settle into the new season.
Verdict: May struggle to reach the play-offs for the third time in a row
- Nickname: Bully Boy
- Date of Birth: 18/09/1990
- Nationality: English
- World Ranking: 5
- Walk-on music: Shut Up & Dance, Walk The Moon
- Sky Bet odds: 20/1
- Career highlights: World Championship runner-up (2019), Premier League Darts runner-up (2018), World Matchplay runner-up (2019), Masters runner-up (2020), World Series of Darts Finals runner-up (2018), World Youth champion (2013), winner of 10 non-major PDC titles including Shanghai Darts Masters (2018)
- Premier League record: 3 appearances, one play-offs including runner-up (2018)
A title-less 2019 ended with World Championship disappointment but overall the past two seasons have been littered with near misses as he gets closer to his first major trophy.
Heartbreakingly he missed three match darts to win a deciding leg in the Masters final against Peter Wright which means he’s been runner-up in five TV finals since the 2018 Premier League (2018 World Series, 2019 Worlds, 2019 World Matchplay being the others) so he keeps knocking on the door.
We all keep saying he’ll win a big one soon to open the floodgates and he is only 29. Even though there’s plenty of yeas on his side, he doesn't want to wait too much longer to get the job done with so many talented players rising through the ranks - not to mention the older ones rolling back the years.
Verdict: Involved in the battle for the 'last' play-off spot
- Nickname: The Flying Scotsman
- Date of Birth: 22/12/1970
- Nationality: Scottish
- World Ranking: 6
- Walk-on music: Jump Around, House of Pain
- Sky Bet odds: 10/1
- Career highlights: 2x World Champion (2015, 2016), World Matchplay (2018), 2x Premier League (2011, 2015), UK Open (2018), Players Championship Finals (2014), Champions League of Darts (2018), over 30 other PDC titles
- Premier League record: 8 appearances, 2x champion (2011, 2015), 4x semi-finalist
This is a massive year for Gary Anderson as he defending £430,000 in prize money from what was a tremendous 2018, in which he won the UK Open and World Matchplay - so he can't afford another 2019.
While the Premier League has no baring on rankings, the Flying Scotsman admits his has doubts over whether the body will "allow him to perform" to his best during the gruelling schedule.
Anderson can still blow anyone away on any given day but the reservation is whether he can juggle the Thursday night commitments with weekend competition and family life in the same way he could in the past.
Verdict: Has only failed to reach the play-offs twice but this could be the third
- Nickname: SuperChin
- Date of Birth: 22/03/1986
- Nationality: Northern Irish
- World Ranking: 7
- Walk-on music: Sweet Caroline, Neil Diamond
- Sky Bet odds: 28/1
- Career highlights: World Grand Prix champion (2017), Players Championship Finals (2019), three non-televised PDC titles
- Premier League record: Two appearances, semi-finals 2019
It was a year of two halves for Daryl Gurney in 2019.
The first half he reached Premier League finals night for the first time and managed to pull off a rare regular season double over Michael van Gerwen while he also reached the World Matchplay semi-finals and won a European Tour event.
His demoralising defeat to Rob Cross in the last four in Blackpool, when he led 14-7 only to lose 17-15, took the wind out of his sails somewhat and probably breathed a sigh of relief when his selection in the Premier League was confirmed.
It's perhaps unfair to have him priced up as the rank outsider but at the moment it's hard to see him launching as strong a challenge as he did last season.
Verdict: Could be a tough season
- Nickname: The Asp
- Date of Birth: 15/07/1991
- Nationality: English
- World Ranking: 8
- Walk-on music: Mr Brightside, The Killers
- Sky Bet odds: 18/1
- Career highlights: UK Open champion (2019), winner of two non-major PDC titles including US Darts Masters (2019), 2x World Championship semi-finalist (2019, 2018)
- Premier League record: Debut
Ranked 73 in the Order of Merit before the 2019 World Championship, Nathan Aspinall is preparing for his Premier League debut as a top 10 player after an astonishing season.
The young Stockport thrower won the UK Open and reached a second successive world semi-final while he also performed consistently well on tour to continue his meteoric rise up to eighth in the rankings.
Aspinall is not only super talented with tremendous battling qualities but he's one of the hardest practicing players around and won't take these new-found riches for granted having been on the breadline not so long ago so expect him to be operating at this level for a long time to come.
What does he need to work on to take another step? Great in scraps but not blowing anyone away.
Verdict: Genuine contender to finish fourth
- Nickname: Duzza
- Date of Birth: 24/11/1970
- Nationality: English
- World Ranking: 22
- Walk-on music: Let Me Entertain You - Robbie Williams
- Sky Bet odds: 25/1
- Premier League best: Debut
- Career highlights: Three-time BDO World Champion (2017, 2018, 2019), winner of six other BDO majors, winner of two non-televised PDC titles, 3x PDC major semi-finalist in debut season (World Matchplay, World Grand Prix, Grand Slam)
Glen Durrant is one of the lowest ranked players ever to receive an invitation to play in the Premier League although he's still six places higher than Raymond van Barneveld's position of 28 in January 2019!
There's certainly none of the same controversy as last year considering Duzza's rise from the very bottom of the Order or Merit in his debut season with the PDC was nothing short of sensational.
Not only did the three-time Lakeside king win a pair of Pro Tour titles but he reached the semi-finals of the World Matchplay, World Grand Prix and the Grand Slam of Darts - while his run to the World Championship quarter-finals rubber stamped his Premier League inclusion.
He's also one of the few players in existence with a 100% record against MVG - albeit after just two matches, including that epic in Blackpool.
It's a joy to watch a player like Duzza visibly cherish 'living the dream' so much and there wouldn't be many more popular winners of a big TV title than him should he manage to do so.
Unlike the traditional style of tournaments which he's great at growing into round-by-round, the Premier League requirement of needing to peak explosively for a 12 leg burst once a week is new to him and it's hard to judge how well he'll fare on debut.
Verdict: Never underestimate Duzza but a tough ask to reach play-offs on debut
Premier League Night one: Thursday February 6
Click on the odds for more Sky Bet match markets
- TV Coverage: Sky Sports (1900 GMT)
- Format: Maximum of 12 legs
- Venue: Aberdeen
Where better to start the new Premier League season than in front of the loudest fans in Britain?
The Aberdeen crowd have enjoyed their fair share of iconic moments in the Premier League down the years including two nine-darters from Raymond van Barneveld (2010) and Phil Taylor (2012) while it was the scene of Michael van Gerwen's world record televised average of 123.40 and John Henderson's heroics against the Dutchman last season.
Let's remind ourselves of all of them before running through Thursday's fixtures...
- Head-to-head: 3-2
- Meetings since start of 2019: 3-2 (TV: 2-1)
- PDC Titles Since Start of 2019: 0-2
- Career PDC Titles: 11-2 (TV: 2-4)
Michael Smith obviously has the advantage of Premier League experience and heads to Aberdeen on the back of an encouraging weekend at the Masters - an event Duzza didn't compete in.
There was a bit of ‘friendly’ needle last year when Smith won their World Matchplay semi-final but Durrant did gain revenge in the last eight of the Grand Slam.
I'm expecting this to go quite long so there should be plenty of 180s and a couple of crowd-pleasing checkouts from Duzza, who is usually strong in that department.
Suggested bet: Over 10.5 legs, high checkout of 102.5+ and over 5.5 180s at 7/1 (Sky Bet)
- Head-to-head: 8-8 (1 draw) (TV: 2-6, 1 draw)
- Meetings since start of 2019: 1-0
- PDC Titles Since Start of 2019: 0-2
- Career PDC Titles: 49-5 (TV: 19-2)
Daryl Gurney may well be underdog due to the Aberdeen factor but he does . have a superb record against Gary Anderson, particularly on TV.
The last of his six televised victories was the infamous 'mumble-gate' affair at the 2018 World Grand Prix where the Northern Irishman - much to his surprise - got under Anderson's skin.
Gurney will have to block out the vociferous atmosphere to stand a chance but he has a point to prove this season and could take this one right down to the wire.
Suggested bet: Over 11.5 legs at 6/5
- Head-to-head: 59-18 (2 draws) (TV: 29-6, 2 draws)
- Meetings since start of 2019: 6-3 (TV: 4-1)
- PDC Titles Since Start of 2019: 14-7 (TV: 8-3)
- Career PDC Titles: 133-29 (TV: 53-7)
Peter Wright lost 29 of their 36 televised meetings before the World Championship, including all nine major finals, but those mental demons have now been banished.
Another TV title at the weekend, when MVG slumped to a first-round exit, emphasises their contrasting confidence levels right now and I think Wright is too big a price to continue this trend.
Whereas a new Snakebite is playing with 'the' darts he finally found, MVG could now become the ‘tinker man’ in his place - for the time being at least.
Suggested bet: Peter Wright to win, score over 2.5 180s and a checkout of over 72.5 at 7/2 (Sky Bet)
- Head-to-head: 0-0
- Meetings since start of 2019: 0-0
- PDC Titles Since Start of 2019: 2-0 (TV: 2-0)
- Career Titles: 3-0 (TV: 2-0)
John Henderson returns to the scene of ‘that’ draw with Michael van Gerwen when he was such a massive underdog but will it be the same atmosphere against someone without that same all-conquering aura?
The popular Highlander hasn't played a competitive match since the early stages of the World Championship while Aspinall comes into this off the back of a great season and an impressive Masters debut.
I just can't see the same magic as last year.
Suggested bet: Nathan Aspinall to win the match, score over 2.5 180s and checkout over 81.5 at 5/2 (Sky Bet)
- Head-to-head: 6-6 (1 draw) (TV: 1-3, 1 draw)
- Meetings since start of 2019: 3-4 (1 draw) (TV: 1-2, 1 draw)
- PDC Titles Since Start of 2019: 5-2 (TV: 1-2)
- Career Titles: 9-9 (TV: 2-4)
Rob Cross beat Gerwyn Price last time they met in European Championship final for his second TV title of the season, and he does have a superior TV record over the Welshman.
But in the short time since then, the pair have gone in different directions in the world's eyes and it's the two-time Grand Slam of Darts champion who is seen as the stronger force right now.
Voltage might take a few weeks to adjust to his dramatic weight loss and this is probably the perfect time for Price to play such a tough fixture.
Suggested bet: Price to win and hit most 180s at 11/4 (Sky Bet)
Treble: Wright, Aspinall and Price at 9.8/1
Draw no bet accas: The above acca at 5.13/1
Premier League Challengers
There will be nine challengers, playing one night each. Games won by Challengers will not count towards the league table, however their opponents will retain any points gained from the matches.
- John Henderson (Aberdeen, Night One)
- Fallon Sherrock (Nottingham, Night Two)
- Jonny Clayton (Cardiff, Night Three)
- William O'Connor (Dublin, Night Four)
- Luke Humphries (Exeter, Night Five)
- Stephen Bunting (Liverpool, Night Six)
- Chris Dobey (Newcastle, Night Seven)
- Jeffrey de Zwaan (Rotterdam, Night Eight)
- Jermaine Wattimena (Rotterdam, Night Nine)