Premier League Darts 2014: Preview and Predictions

Ed Watson@@edwatson91Contributor IFebruary 3, 2014

Premier League Darts 2014: Preview and Predictions

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    This week darts fans across the world will no doubt be getting excited about the upcoming 16-week darting circus that is the Premier League Darts.

    Featuring 10 of the best players in the world we will be treated to week after week of top-quality short format darts—starting on February 6 in Liverpool and culminating with the semi-finals and final at the O2 in London on May 22.

    Now in its 10th year, the Premier League will bring us 15 weeks of league matches before the top four in the table meet for the play-offs.

    For the second year running, there will be 10 competitors with the threat of "relegation" after nine weeks after everyone has played each other once. The bottom two in the table will then be eliminated from the competition with the remaining eight playing each other again to conclude the outcome of the final table.

    League matches will be best of 12 legs, with the winner picking up two points or one point each for a draw. The semi-finals are then best of 15 before the final is best of 19.

    2013 saw Michael van Gerwen win the competition at the first time of asking in a thrilling final against six-time Premier League champion Phil Taylor.

    Last year’s relegated duo, Gary Anderson and Wes Newton, return in 2014 as wild-card choices and will hope to finish further up the table this time round.

    So here is a preview of the people involved in the competition with a few predictions of how I think the tournament will go.

Michael Van Gerwen: World No. 1

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    First up there’s the new world champion and new world No.1 darts player—Michael van Gerwen.

    The Dutchman had the year of his life in 2013.

    It started with an incredible debut season in the Premier League. As he will in 2014, he played Phil Taylor first—a highly anticipated match after they had recently met in the World Championship final. Van Gerwen led 6-4 and missed five darts at double to win 7-4. They eventually drew 6-6.

    He then went on to top the Premier League table with 24 points and was able to beat Phil Taylor in the final—finishing on the bull with an incredible 132 checkout.

    "Mighty Mike" failed to win another major TV event until November when he won the Players Championship. His performance in the final will best be remembered for winning seven legs in a row against Taylor, turning a 6-3 deficit into a 10-6 lead and going on to win 11-7.

    This regained van Gerwen’s confidence going into the 2014 World Championships which saw him beat Gary Anderson and Adrian Lewis on the way before taking a 7-4 in sets victory against Peter Wright on New Year’s Day.

    I’ve predicted van Gerwen to finish runner-up this year.

    I expect a van Gerwen vs. Taylor final again, but Taylor will be hurting from his loss in the Players Championship and his shock defeat to Michael Smith in the World Championships. Therefore, while I think van Gerwen will be a force to be reckoned with, I think Taylor will be the one to prevail this year.

Phil Taylor: World No. 2

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    Phil Taylor is the greatest darts player ever to have lived.

    His unrivalled 16 World Championship titles, not to mention 14 World Matchplay, 11 World Grand Prix, six Premier League, five Grand Slam of Darts, three Players Championship titles and many, many more along the way show just what a true champion he is.

    Taylor turned 53 in 2013 but until late November was still the dominant force of the sport.

    Despite it being the first time ever he failed to finish top of the Premier League table, he only narrowly lost to van Gerwen in the final. He then went on to win the World Matchplay, Sydney Darts Masters, World Grand Prix, Championship League Darts and the inaugural year of the Masters.

    The highlights of his season arguably came in two matches against Adrian Lewis.

    The first was their World Matchplay final in which Taylor triumphed 18-13 with an amazing 111.23 average. The other was in the Grand Slam of Darts semi-final which, again, saw Taylor win—this time 16-9, with both players averaging more than 109.

    The loss to van Gerwen in the Players Championship and his shock 4-3 in sets loss to Michael Smith in the 2014 World Championships put a downer on Taylor’s 2013, which is why I think he will begin 2014 stronger than ever and win the Premier League.

    It is hard to put your money anywhere other than Taylor. His record shows how prolific he is, and the Premier League will be his first opportunity to show the rest of the field that he is still as strong as he’s ever been.

Simon Whitlock: World No. 3

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    The only Australian in the competition—Whitlock is a former Premier League and World Championship finalist with his only major tournament victory coming at the European Championships in 2012.

    After reaching the final in 2012, his 2013 Premier League campaign proved somewhat less successful, as he avoided relegation by just one point in week nine before three wins in a row saw him flirt with nicking a play-off position. Eventually he finished sixth in the table.

    The rest of his 2013 saw him let numerous big chances slip.

    In the Masters, he was one leg away from victory against James Wade but let a 7-4 lead slip to an 8-7 loss. Similarly, at the Grand Slam of Darts, he let a 6-1 lead turn into a 10-9 defeat against Ted Hankey—and finally in the 2014 World Championships, with Phil Taylor knocked out early on, he was favourite to reach the final from the top section of the draw but lost 6-2 in sets to Peter Wright in the semi-final.

    I have predicted Whitlock to be one of four players who will be competing for the final play-off position. He is a fighter and never gives up on a game, and I’m not expecting him to start as badly as in 2013.

Adrian Lewis: World No. 4

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    "Jackpot" was one of the standout performers on the PDC circuit in the second half of 2013.

    It was only coming across in-form players Phil Taylor and Michael van Gerwen on numerous occasions that stopped the two-time world champion from winning more than just the European Championships in 2013.

    His matches with Taylor in the World Matchplay and Grand Slam of Darts were two of the most memorable games of the year, whilst van Gerwen beat Lewis in the Players Championship before romping to a 6-0 in sets victory in the 2014 World Championship semi-finals.

    Lewis had a disappointing Premier League campaign in 2013 and looked really out of form to begin with—losing his first four games and narrowly avoiding relegation.

    He made it to the final eight before a second slump of form saw him finish eighth in the table.

    I predict Lewis to finish third in the table before losing in the semi-finals.

    He looked a different player from his Premier League performances during the second half of the year. With his rapid, high-scoring technique, he will be a handful for any player he comes up against and has the ability to beat every player in the competition.

Dave Chisnall: World No. 5

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    "Chizzy" has been a player that has been on the fringe of a Premier League place for the last few years but will make his debut in the competition in 2014.

    After a strong start to 2013, he went off the boil in November and December.

    Reaching the quarter-finals of the World Matchplay for the first time in his career, he followed up that relative success with his first major appearance in a PDC final at the World Grand Prix—but that did not go to plan as he found himself on the receiving end of the first-ever whitewash in the final, losing 6-0 in sets to Phil Taylor and winning just two out of 20 legs.

    Following the "best and worst night of [his] career," the next two months brought no luck for Chizzy, losing three out of three group games in the Grand Slam of Darts followed by first-round exits in the Players Championships and 2014 World Championships.

    Despite being fifth in the PDC Order of Merit, I’m predicting Chizzy to finish bottom.

    He has fantastic natural talent, and if he plays to the best of his ability every week, then he will definitely prove me wrong—but since his World Grand Prix loss, he has looked like a player lacking confidence and has thrown away games he should have won.

    Expect fireworks from the St Helens man, but also expect inconsistency which in short-format darts can be easily punished.

Peter Wright: World No. 7

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    "Snakebite" is without question the most colourful character on the circuit and came to the forefront of media attention with his journey to the final of the 2014 World Championships in December 2013.

    He beat Michael Smith, Wes Newton and Simon Whitlock, to name a few, en route to the final, producing the tournament's highest average along the way.

    Wright eventually lost 7-4 in sets to Michael van Gerwen in the final, missing crucial chances to pull back two sets at 4-2 and 6-4 down.

    The 43-year-old's rise to the top has been a slow burner though.

    Making his BDO World Championship debut in 1995, it took until 2012 to win his first PDC ranking event, playing the full tour schedule for the first time in 2008. 2013 saw him record his best-placed finishes in the UK Open, World Matchplay and World Grand Prix as well as making his debut in the Grand Slam of Darts, before his 2014 World Championship run.

    I’ve predicted Wright to be one of four players competing for a final play-off place.

    The 2014 World Championships was where it really came together for Wright, but he proved in the tournaments leading up to it that he was becoming a consistent performer—a trait he will need to continue if he is to be successful in the Premier League.

    Despite early exits in the Grand Slam of Darts, the Masters and Players Championships, the six games he played in those tournaments actually saw him register two 100-plus averages, two 99.9 averages, a 97 and a 94 average.

    He proved at the recent World Championships that he is unfazed by the TV cameras and that he can perform under pressure, which is why I expect him still to be competing for a top-four place at the end.

Wes Newton: World No. 8

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    Newton made his Premier League debut in 2013 but struggled to find the cutting-edge to kill off enough matches to avoid relegation.

    A regular in TV tournaments, 2013 saw Newton struggle to repeat his form in 2011 and 2012 which saw him finish runner-up in the UK open and European Championships as well as reach the World Grand Prix semi-finals.

    Despite opening-round exits in the European Championships and World Matchplay and a second round exit at the World Grand Prix—his quarter-final appearances at the 2013 and 2014 World Championships and his European Tour win earlier in the year were enough to leave Newton seventh in the PDC Order of Merit coming into 2014.

    This was enough for him to be invited back for a second shot at the Premier League.

    Newton didn’t do particularly badly but didn’t seem to have what it took to put the knife to his opponents.

    I didn’t see enough evidence in 2013 to suggest that that has changed, which is why I have predicted Newton to finish in ninth and suffer relegation for the second year running.

    However, he isn’t nicknamed "The Warrior" for nothing and he won’t give up until the match is over.

    To win consistently against the best players in the world, Newton needs to improve both his scoring power and checkout percentage, in my opinion.

Robert Thornton: World No. 9

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    Thornton was the surprise package of the 2013 Premier League, finishing a respectable fifth in his debut season.

    He started the campaign with four games without loss, including an emphatic 109 average in a 7-2 defeat of fellow Scot Gary Anderson. He also beat 16-time world champion and six-time Premier League winner Phil Taylor 7-4 before struggling for form in the latter stages of the competition.

    Winning his first major at the UK Open in 2012, Thornton made his second televised final appearance at the 2013 Grand Slam of Darts—losing 16-6 to an unstoppable Taylor.

    I have predicted "The Thorn" to be in the running for the final play-off place again this year.

    He proved in 2013 that he can roll with the punches—and anyone who leaves him a double 20 checkout should expect to be punished. I expect him to cause some of the favourites problems again and for him to be involved in some of this year’s most exciting matches.

Raymond Van Barneveld: World No. 10

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    "Barney" is one of the most recognisable figures in darts.

    The five-time world champion (four BDO and one PDC) is still chasing his first Premier League title after no fewer than six semi-final appearances.

    Barneveld made Premier League history back in 2006 by hitting the competition’s first-ever nine-dart finish against Peter Manley in Bournemouth.

    After success in 2007, winning the PDC World Championship, UK Open and the Las Vegas Desert Classic, it took Barney another five years to win another title—this time the 2012 Grand Slam of Darts.

    It triggered a resurgent Barney, reaching the 2013 World Championship semi-finals and finishing second in the Premier League table. But the second half of the year proved somewhat disappointing—making just one major semi-final appearance.

    I’ve predicted Barney to be in the hunt for the final play-off position.

    Despite being 10th in the PDC Order of Merit, he is still one of the best players out there and comes backed by the "Barney Army" at every stop on the tour.

    Expect brilliance from the veteran Dutchman, but also expect a number of off weeks with a disappointed-looking Barney walking off the stage with slumped shoulders and feeling sorry for himself.

Gary Anderson: World No. 18

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    Gary Anderson is a former Premier League champion—winning the competition in 2011.

    However, a slump in form in 2012 and 2013 has seen him slide to 18th in the PDC Order of Merit, qualifying for the 2014 Premier League by virtue of a Sky Sports wild-card choice.

    Anderson’s heavy scoring style makes him one of the most exciting players on the tour and appearances in the finals of the PDC World Championships, Players Championships, Grand Slam of Darts and UK Open show that he has the credentials.

    The former Premier League champion finished bottom in 2013, suffering relegation after nine rounds.

    His performances near the end of the year suggested Anderson was starting to find some form again—including his Grand Slam of Darts loss to Phil Taylor where he averaged 106, prompting him to tell Taylor he is "on my way back."

    He also threw away three sets against Michael van Gerwen to lose 4-3 in sets in the 2014 World Championships, missing the chance to knock out the then-tournament favourite.

    He will come into the competition with confidence—on Sunday, he won his first ranking event since 2011, beating his good friend Justin Pipe in the final to claim the German Darts Championship.

    I’m predicting Anderson to finish in eighth this season, beating relegation but struggling to make an impact at the sharp end of the competition.

    If he plays at his best, there is no reason why he can’t win it again, but based on his form over the last couple of years, we should expect an inconsistent Gary Anderson. He will show what a world-class player he is at times, but he will also show his weaknesses.

    Expect multiple 180s, but also expect multiple misses at doubles.