The Premier League Darts roadshow heads to Belfast today, as Michael van Gerwen and Adrian Lewis clash in what will be an explosive contest. Dave Chisnall aims to preserve his unbeaten start against Kim Huybrechts, whilst Stephen Bunting and Raymond van Barneveld meet in a tie that could have major repercussions for the bottom of the table.
Kim Huybrechts vs Dave Chisnall
Kim Huybrechts and Dave Chisnall kick off the action in Belfast this evening. Before a dart was thrown, both men were favourites with the bookmakers to be relegated; nevertheless they have experienced contrasting fortunes thus far. Chisnall has secured 5pts from his opening three games, whilst Kim Huybrechts is in serious relegation trouble.
However, the Belgian will come into tonight’s clash with slightly more confidence, having secured his first point of the league phase against Adrian Lewis last week. It was admittedly a scrappy encounter, with Huybrechts averaging just 88, but psychologically he may now be able to play with more freedom and belief.
Chisnall has enjoyed an excellent start to the league phase. He maintained his unbeaten start, salvaging a point against James Wade last week. It was a tenacious battle, neither player performed to their potential, but Chisnall held his nerve in the 12th and deciding leg, to claim a share of the spoils. Last year, Chisnall consistently delivered high averages and good performances, but failed to close out tight contests.
It’s almost been a role reversal this year. Chisnall has yet to really perform so far. He averaged 94 in demolishing Peter Wright in week 1; he snatched a win against Raymond van Barneveld after the legendary Dutchman missed 19 doubles, whilst he averaged just 90 in drawing with Wade last week. Despite this, Chisnall is demonstrating impressive composure in the crucial moments; many experts say that getting results when you’re not at your best is indicative of quality, so Chisnall deserves credit for this.
The St Helen’s star won’t be concerned by his averages or performances thus far. He averaged 118 in a tour event a fortnight ago and contested a thrilling tie against Michael van Gerwen at the Masters last month; averaging 110 in a 10-9 defeat, so his form is unquestionably strong. I believe Huybrechts will be buoyed by his point against Lewis in Liverpool. Chizzy however, will be in confident mood as he dominates the head-to-head between the two; winning 9/12 matches against the Hurricane.
Prediction: Chisnall 7-4 Huybrechts
Gary Anderson vs James Wade
This could be an enthralling match-up. The scoring power of Gary Anderson will go up against the finishing prowess of James Wade. Anderson will have been bitterly disappointed to lose to van Gerwen last week. Although the ‘Green Machine’ averaged 101 he was not firing on all cylinders, but the reigning World Champion endured a torrid time on the doubles; hitting just 4/27 attempts to hand his rival victory.
Anderson’s scoring was relentless, but at this high level, you simply aren’t going to register victories with a 15% double success rate. Nevertheless, I think it’s slightly unfair of people to claim that Anderson’s former frailties on the doubles are re-emerging. The Scot has actually been one of the most consistent finishers in world darts over the past 18 months; last week was simply a blip.
Wade has been in solid form. He struggled for fluency against Dave Chisnall last week, but still secured a point, despite his injured foot. The major question mark over the Aldershot ace is his consistency on the scoring stakes. Whilst Wade is predominantly clinical at the latter stages of legs, against the likes of van Gerwen, Lewis and Anderson (with their prolific scoring) he may not always get the opportunities at doubles.
In Wade’s defence, he averaged 104 against Kim Huybrechts in Week 2, whilst he averaged well in excess of 100 in a 6-5 defeat to Adrian Lewis in the UK Open Qualifier on Sunday, so he is performing well. The 31-year-old must start well against Anderson; when the Scot gets a lead, he very rarely relinquishes an advantage. I certainly do not predict a repeat of last week’s finishing woes for Anderson, but I think Wade will be determined to prove his quality and preserve his unbeaten status. A draw would be a decent result for both men.
Prediction: Anderson 6-6 Wade
Michael van Gerwen v Adrian Lewis
This could be explosive. On paper, this is certainly the match of the night. Van Gerwen and Lewis have contested many thrilling matches over the past 18 months; their respective paces suit each-other perfectly. Additionally, both players are in excellent form and confident mood, which should add to the spectacle.
Van Gerwen won the fourth UK Open qualifier on Friday, before being knocked out in the last 16 on Saturday by an inspired Terry Jenkins. Because he had already topped the qualification table, the Dutchman opted to miss Sunday’s event, so there will be no question of fatigue for him. Adrian Lewis has displayed tremendous consistency so far this year, particularly on the floor. Jackpot reached at least the quarter-finals in all 6 UK Open Qualifiers; this is a remarkable achievement considering the quality of players on show and the gruelling schedule.
However, after comprehensively beating van Barneveld in week 1 with a 113.8 average, Lewis has struggled slightly. He lost 7-2 to Phil Taylor in week 2, and drew 6-6 with struggling Kim Huybrechts in Liverpool. It was a puzzling performance from Lewis. At times he was hitting the treble 20 with such consummate ease, yet moments later, he would miss big numbers and squander chances at a double. As I stated last week; Lewis has only reached the play-offs in two of his seven Premier League campaigns, which is not reflective of his immense ability. He knows he’s playing well enough to finish in the Top 4, but he must produce the goods on a regular basis.
This could be a case of who blinks first! Their last two matches on the Pro-Tour have been incredible. Van Gerwen lost to Lewis 6-1 in UK Open Qualifier 1; Jackpot averaged 110! Nevertheless, the roles were reversed the next day; van Gerwen was a 6-1 victor, averaging 116 to Lewis’ 110. Their recent head-to-head record is interesting; van Gerwen has won 10 out of their last 12 meetings, and is unbeaten in seven games vs Lewis on television, winning six and drawing one. Will that be a psychological factor tonight?
I expect a brilliant contest, because both men are playing extremely well and feel they have a point to prove to one another. However, due to his excellent recent record vs Lewis and his dominant start to 2015, I think van Gerwen’s unrelenting nature may prove decisive.
Prediction: van Gerwen 7-4 Lewis
Stephen Bunting vs Raymond van Barneveld
This is a really important match for both players. Prior to the first darts being thrown, I strongly fancied both men to contend for a play-off place. However, with 1 point from their opening three games, they are potential candidates for relegation. This may sound premature, because a couple of victories in succession can propel them into the Top 4 shake-up, but it’s an encounter both will be anxious to avoid losing.
The form-book currently points towards Raymond van Barneveld. Stephen Bunting is probably experiencing his first dip in form since joining the PDC last January. In the German Masters a fortnight ago, he lost 6-0 to van Gerwen, averaging just 86. Then, last week against Phil Taylor on home turf, Bunting faltered, losing 7-1 with an 84 average. In eight legs, he hit just 8 scores of 100 or above, which is incredible for a player of his scoring power. Nevertheless, I think the criticism is a little extreme. He is undoubtedly a quality player with an excellent mentality, and I would not be shocked if he bounced back in comprehensive fashion tonight.
Van Barneveld’s defence of his Premier League crown has begun shakily. After relinquishing a 5-4 lead against Chisnall in Bournemouth, Barney let slip a 5-1 lead against Peter Wright last week. The 47-year-old was averaging 118 until the fifth leg, so it’s almost unfathomable that he didn’t win, but his scoring power disappeared and Wright produced some fantastic 94, 121 and 147 finishes to claim his first point of the campaign.
Van Barneveld gave a rather frank interview after his game against Wright last week, admitting the draw felt like a defeat. He has been on a major health-kick since the turn of the year, losing over four-stone, but has admitted he is lacking in energy. He said in the last few legs, he felt like an ’85-year-old man’, comments he’s echoed in the Daily Record today. Van Barneveld is unquestionably struggling to manage his diabetes efficiently on stage, a problem exacerbated by the fact that there are no breaks in Premier League matches now.
Van Barneveld did have a positive weekend at the UK Open qualifiers, reaching the semi-finals on Sunday, losing to a 109 average from Ian White. I personally believe both men will avoid relegation, but with such a quality field, it is imperative not to be cut adrift from the chasing pack. This may be a nervy-contest given what is at stake, but if van Barneveld gets an early lead this week, I think he will close out victory. He averaged 102 last week, the highest of any player, so his form is still there.
Prediction: Bunting 5-7 van Barneveld
Phil Taylor vs Peter Wright
The final match in Belfast sees Phil Taylor take on Peter ‘Snakebite’ Wright. Both men will head into this match in upbeat mood; Taylor was victorious on Sunday in the 6th and final UK Open qualifier in Wigan, whilst Wright salvaged an improbable point against van Barneveld last week.
Wright deserves a great deal of credit for last week’s comeback. He suffered 7-1 humiliations against Chisnall and Anderson, so with Barney averaging 118 and leading 5-1, it would have been easy for Wright to capitulate, but he showed great character and tenacity in fighting back.
However, Taylor is looking in ominous form. His performance last week against Stephen Bunting for far from vintage; although the score line was emphatic, his average was 100, rather modest by Taylor’s standards. Nevertheless, it’s the professionalism and the composure of the 16 times World Champion that has been most impressive. He looks very capable of going through the gears if and when required.
Wright’s major problem is his scoring power, or lack of it, which is not helped by his constant changing of equipment. Opponents see that as a sign of vulnerability, and Wright is taking too long to settle into a rhythm which you can ill-afford to do against the world’s best. I found some statistics gathered from the @dartingjellyarm excellent blog really telling. The link to the full article is here: https://dartingjellyarm.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/premier-league-darts-form-guide-week-3-2/
Over the last 10 televised matches, Wright has the best checkout percentage of all Premier League competitors, but the lowest average. That emphasises how inferior his scoring is in comparison to the rest of the field, and I think Taylor will punish him for it. Wright will not be fearful of ‘The Power’, but at present, Taylor is looking ruthlessly proficient on both the scoring and finishing elements of his game.
Prediction: Taylor 7-3 Wright.
What are your predictions for tonight’s games? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below. I look forward to hearing your views!