After Peter Wright and Kim Huybrechts were eliminated on a dramatic Judgement Night, the focus now switches to the play-off battle; with the remaining 8 players fighting for 4 spots. There is a slight gap emerging between the top 3 and the rest of the field. Gary Anderson, 3rd place, sits on 13pts, 4pts above 4th place James Wade. Nevertheless, Raymond van Barneveld and Adrian Lewis, who narrowly avoided elimination in Manchester, are just 3pts and 2pts, respectively, off the coveted play-off places. Therefore, it’s all to play for as the Premier League roadshow heads to Sheffield, where Phil Taylor and Raymond van Barneveld clash in the highlight of Thursday’s matches.
Adrian Lewis v James Wade
In their previous league meeting this year, Wade and Lewis could not be separated. Both players are very evenly matched and Thursday’s clash could be decided by a moment of brilliance. Wade has enjoyed a profitable Premier League return; he’s thrown some very solid darts and has been tough to beat. In comparison, Adrian Lewis has been involved in an intense survival scrap, despite boasting a higher tournament average than the Machine.
The players met in the weekend’s German Darts Masters, where Adrian Lewis whitewashed James Wade 6-0. Wade was well-below par and was suffering with a stomach bug, reflected in his meagre 78 average. This should give Lewis encouragement, because his recent record against Wade had been less than impressive. Since changing his equipment, Jackpot had been performing well with little reward, but that changed last week. Lewis will still believe he has a great chance of qualifying for the play-offs, as victory will bring him level on points with the 32-year-old left-hander. Wade, however, will be determined to bounce back, particularly as he plays twice this week. This double-header could ultimately define Wade’s campaign. I’m sure we won’t see a repeat of the ‘Munich massacre.’
Prediction: Lewis 6-6 Wade
Gary Anderson v Dave Chisnall
Both Anderson and Chisnall sit on 13pts and are very well placed to seal a spot at the O2 Arena in May. Reaching 17 points should be sufficient to seal qualification, so the winner of this contest will have one foot in the semi-finals. Chisnall has continued to defy his critics in this Premier League; last week he produced an excellent comeback from 3-0 down to defeat Phil Taylor 7-4. Chizzy endured a horrendous start to the contest; he was averaging a paltry 76 after 3 legs, but an improbable 112 finish ignited his game. As Taylor looked increasingly fragile, the St Helen’s star grew in confidence and overpowered the 16 times World Champion. I don’t think he received enough plaudits for the mental fortitude he showed in victory last week; his renewed steel has been integral to his development on TV over the last 12 months.
However, he faces an ominous task in the shape of Gary Anderson. Chizzy won their first meeting in emphatic fashion, posting a scintillating 110 average en route to a 7-2 victory, but the Flying Scotsman’s form over the last month has been electrifying. He snatched a draw against Raymond van Barneveld last week; but he averaged 108.8 and hit 7 180’s. The concerns about his doubles have evaporated and he is certainly justifying his World Champion tag at present. Chisnall’s battling qualities have been instrumental in his successful campaign so far and I am very wary of writing him off; but on this occasion, I think Anderson’s added quality may just prevail.
Prediction: Anderson 7-5 Chisnall
Phil Taylor v Raymond van Barneveld
Phil Taylor was uncharacteristically mediocre against Dave Chisnall. Taylor looked uncomfortable from the outset and never really settled. His scoring was inconsistent and his doubles were very poor; he hit just 4/19 attempts. His average of 92 was his lowest televised average for almost a year. He missed the German Darts Masters through illness, but I think it’s extremely unlikely that we’ll see a repeat performance against his old foe.
Their last meeting was an absolute classic and in my opinion, the best group phase match in Premier League Darts history. Taylor averaged an astonishing 115.80, hit 9 180’s yet still lost! Van Barneveld was superb; his timing was exemplary and he was so clinical; his last dart doubling was the defining factor. Van Barneveld has been in excellent form since his victory over Taylor, he has averaged 100+ for three successive weeks and looks very assured.
Last week, Barney faced the daunting prospect of the World Champion averaging 109, but he still claimed the point required to survive, and should have secured the win, which is testament to his game at present. However, Taylor has averaged 100+ in 7 out of 9 matches, so the Dutchman will have to maintain this level of performance to tackle Taylor. Van Barneveld will be hopeful of launching a play-off bid and I believe a point against the Power would be a solid platform to build on.
Prediction: Taylor 6-6 van Barneveld
Stephen Bunting v Michael van Gerwen
Michael van Gerwen’s dominance in 2015 continues. He won his third successive European Tour event at the German Darts Masters last weekend and he is determined to preserve his unbeaten Premier League record. Stephen Bunting has had a mixed debut campaign; he admitted that he’s found it difficult to acclimatise to the bigger venues and hasn’t produced his best darts. His tournament average is a modest 94. However, he deserves credit for the battling qualities he’s demonstrated in adversity and will be hopeful of launching a play-off bid in the coming weeks. He battled back from 5-3 down to claim an improbable draw against Huybrechts, leaving him just two points adrift of Wade.
However, having said all that, on current form I can only see one winner. MvG rode his luck at certain times throughout the weekend, but his timing is impeccable. Whenever his opponent threatens, he seems to respond with consummate ease. Van Gerwen has won his last 11 last-leg deciders, which just illustrates how adept he is at producing under pressure. Bunting has surrendered leads against Peter Wright and Gary Anderson in recent weeks, but it is paramount that he starts well, otherwise you fear the Green Machine will go through the gears and overwhelm the Bullet.
Prediction: Bunting 3-7 van Gerwen
Dave Chisnall v James Wade
It’s extremely difficult to predict the outcome of this final match. Their respective fortunes in their opening matches could play a pivotal role in this result. Momentum is a huge factor in sport and although both men are well placed to secure a top four spot, if they lose their opening match of the night, they will invariably feel under pressure. However, if they win, they will be galvanised and adrenaline could carry them to victory.
It’s extremely difficult to maintain a high level of focus across an entire night; the second matches for each player are usually more scrappy affairs, which favours the more consistent performers, rather than the exciting power-scorers. On this basis, Wade should hold the advantage, but I think Chisnall seems unfazed by most of what’s thrown at him. Two wins will be sufficient for Chizzy to guarantee a semi-final spot, and depending on how he fares against Anderson, he could be top of the league at the culmination of Thursday’s action. Their previous meeting in week 3 was an erratic affair which ended in a 6-6 stalemate. I think we may see a similar outcome in Sheffield.
Prediction: Chisnall 6-6 Wade