No sooner has the last tournament left us, the next one is upon us. The PDC tree is bearing much fruit as far as exposure is concerned and Thursday marks the start of this year’s Premier League – a 16-week jamboree which kicks off in Leeds before concluding at London’s O2 Arena in late May.
Participating in the 10-man event include the current top four in the PDC Order of Merit – Michael van Gerwen, Phil Taylor, newly-crowned world champion Gary Anderson and Adrian Lewis. They are joined by defending champion Raymond van Barneveld, Peter Wright, and Dave Chisnall, while James Wade makes a return following a one-year absence.
This year’s edition also sees two new debutants in the form of 2014 BDO World Champion, Stephen Bunting, and the improving Kim Huybrechts.
Here is my preview for the first five 12-leg match-ups taking place at Leeds’ First Direct Arena.
Dave Chisnall v Peter Wright
Chisnall and Wright are due to kick off the action and both will be keen to leave an early mark as the tournament gets under way. Chizzy showed some devastating form at last weekend’s Masters in Milton Keynes, averaging over 106 to defeat Robert Thornton before being denied in an incredible 10-9 contest against van Gerwen who recorded an average in excess of 110.
Meanwhile, Wright was steady, but also bowed out in the quarter-finals to Adrian Lewis. This should be a close encounter but if Chisnall can reproduce his standard from the weekend, his scoring power should be enough to nick it.
Raymond van Barneveld v Adrian Lewis
Meeting for the first time since van Barneveld’s dramatic 4-3 win at this year’s world championship, the pair of them have reasons to fancy their chances ahead of this bout. The Dutchman reached the final of the Masters, while Lewis also performed well, making the semis – with both being halted by van Gerwen.
Van Barneveld holds a 9-3 lead in their Premier League meetings with two draws and hasn’t lost to the Englishman in the competition since 2012. However, recent history suggests there isn’t much between the two and the draw seems a decent shout here.
Kim Huybrechts v Michael van Gerwen
These two played one of the more memorable matches of 2014 at the Grand Slam of Darts with an inspired Huybrechts pinning a nine-dart finish as he overpowered van Gerwen. The latter was unstoppable at the Masters though, notching two 110+ averages as he stormed to another television title.
Huybrechts was absent at the Masters – virtue of not being in the top 16 – and may come into his first Premier League match slightly cold. The fiery Belgian should still be primed for battle though, yet I expect the world number one will have a bit too much here and run out a relatively comfortable winner – as comfortable as a first-to-7-legs match can be, anyway.
Gary Anderson v Phil Taylor
Anderson is in the peculiar position of having consecutive triumphs on TV over Taylor, with victories at the Players Championship in December and more significantly, the world championship final at Alexandra Palace last month. The Scot was a tad rusty at the Masters but still managed to make the last-four – testament to his form nowadays. Taylor was bounced out in the first round by Terry Jenkins but the well-documented death of his mother means it’s perhaps not the shock it would otherwise be.
Given Anderson’s success of late, and Taylor’s regular malaise in the opening Premier League fixtures, I predict the Flying Scotsman to secure a third-straight win over The Power in front of the cameras.
Stephen Bunting v James Wade
The ease of Bunting’s win over Wade at Ally Pally was one of the more surprising stories of the championship and the two are set to clash again in the final match of the opening night. Wade has proven to be Bunting’s bunny over the past 12 months, with the Bullet prevailing in all four of their matches.
Wade’s Premier League experience means he won’t be phased by the huge crowds, yet little has bothered Bunting since he made the switch from the BDO after winning the Lakeside World Championship in early 2014. I’m going for Bunting to snatch the two points on debut.