As we head into the final week of group phase action in this year’s Premier League Darts, the Top 4 places have been decided following last week’s results. Michael van Gerwen, Dave Chisnall, Raymond van Barneveld and Gary Anderson will all be present at the O2, vying for the coveted Premier League crown. However, van Gerwen and Chisnall are battling for 1st place, whilst Anderson and van Barneveld are still fighting for 3rd spot, so this week’s fixtures still have real significance.
Phil Taylor v James Wade
In 2010, this was the Premier League Final; now Taylor & Wade are sitting 6th and 7th in the table respectively. That just underlines the strength in depth within the game at present; it has been a fiercely competitive league this season. Notably, this is the first time in 11 years of the competition’s history that Taylor has failed to qualify for the Top 4; in fact, he’s never finished lower than 3rd in the league phase previously. Despite this, it would be rather naïve and dismissive to claim this is indicative of Taylor’s imminent decline.
Taylor remarkably boasts the second highest tournament average of 102. 61 over the 15 weeks of competition, yet he still finds himself outside the Top 4. His overall level of performance has been extremely good, but his clutch-doubling, which has been such a decisive factor for him throughout his career, has been susceptible in this campaign.
He has scored superbly at times, but in pressure situations, he has squandered crucial double chances. This was epitomised in his 7-4 defeat to Raymond van Barneveld in Week 7. He hit 9 180’s and averaged an astonishing 115.80, yet lost! This is almost unfathomable, but illustrates that even when playing so well, Taylor lacks the ruthlessness to close out games.
James Wade’s Premier League campaign promised much in the early stages, but since Judgement Night, the Machine has gradually faded away. I view his double-header in Sheffield in Week 10 as the defining blow for Wade. He suffered 7-4 and 7-1 defeats to Lewis and Chisnall respectively; since that moment, he has been unable to regain that momentum and has failed to win in 7 matches.
He has not performed poorly, but has failed to display the same level of scoring power as his rivals. Whilst his doubling is extremely reliable, if you don’t score heavily enough, you simply won’t have enough chances at doubles.
Both men are winners and hugely competitive, so whilst the stakes may not be particularly high, neither will want their campaign to culminate on a defeat. Wade’s Pro-Tour form has been excellent this year, but on the big stage, Taylor’s performances have been far better and I fancy the Power to end what’s been a hugely disappointing season, on a high note.
Prediction: Taylor 7-4 Wade
Raymond van Barneveld vs Stephen Bunting
Raymond van Barneveld’s draw last-week against James Wade secured his Top 4 spot; what a remarkable revival it’s been from the Dutchman. He was facing the ominous prospect of relegation on Judgement Night, but 5 wins and a draw from his last 6 matches have parachuted him up the table. His game against Wade last week was a scrappy affair; both men averaged around the 95 mark, but after trailing 3-0, van Barneveld fought back well to lead 6-4, before he missed two darts at D16 to secure victory.
He admitted afterwards that he was feeling the effects of a gruelling campaign, but now his qualification is assured, this will give him a major boost and I don’t see fatigue being an issue for the legendary Dutchman.
Stephen Bunting’s Premier League campaign has been rather puzzling. Prior to the first week of league action, I fancied Bunting as an outsider to finish in the Top 4, but he has struggled to replicate the form he showed in his first year as a PDC professional. His tournament average of 94.25 is the lowest by some considerable margin and he has never looked truly assured, apart from victories against Chisnall and Anderson.
He made some modifications to his darts before the Premier League and I don’t believe that they’ve paid dividends. The Bullet is adamant that the set-up is not the catalyst for his underwhelming form, but he isn’t throwing with the same conviction or belief; a lot of the darts are dropping below the treble and his doubling at times has been a major concern.
This is a difficult one to call; at present, Michael van Gerwen sits in 1st place, but could be usurped if Dave Chisnall beats the Green Machine in the final match of the night. Nevertheless, on the premise that MvG will finish top, van Barneveld would probably prefer to finish 3rd and avoid his compatriot until the final, therefore he’ll be determined to end his campaign strongly and maintain this momentum going into the O2 next week.
Bunting can play with freedom as he’s under no pressure, yet this was the case last week against Chisnall, where Bunting averaged just 90.14 and whimpered to a 7-1 defeat. His confidence appears rather fragile at present, so the opening few legs of the contest could ultimately dictate the outcome. Van Barneveld’s timing has been impeccable since Judgement Night and I see him ending with victory in Brighton.
Prediction: van Barneveld 7-3 Bunting.
Adrian Lewis vs Gary Anderson
Adrian Lewis’ performance against Michael van Gerwen last week was masterful, but frustrating in the same breath; if Adrian could produce this type of performance on a more consistent basis, he would be a Top 4 certainty. His T20 hitting in the last few legs was incredible; when Jackpot finds his rhythm he is virtually unstoppable.
Gary Anderson was equally impressive last week; albeit for different reasons. Anderson’s 7-5 victory over Taylor consigned The Power to missing out on a Top 4 spot, in the process, allowing the Scot to confirm his place at the 02 Arena. However, Anderson knew that defeat would leave him in an extremely vulnerable position, but he was unperturbed and coped with the occasion superbly.
He hit fine finishes of 66 and 90 to close out tight legs, before holding his nerve on D9 and D1 with his last dart in hand, to secure maximum points. In recent weeks, Anderson has been edgy and frustrated, as seen against Raymond van Barneveld, so to bounce back from such disappointment was a real show of character from the World-Champion.
Like van Barneveld, Anderson would love to end his campaign on a high and finish in 3rd spot if possible, although judging by last week’s interview; he fancies the tantalising prospect of facing Michael van Gerwen in the semi-finals. That statement was certainly one of a man who believes he can win the title, although ‘be careful what you wish for’ may be an apt mantra in this circumstance.
Anderson won the reverse fixture 7-1 in Week 6 with a stunning performance and a 109 average. His finishing was exemplary and scoring just as dominant as usual. Lewis averaged 103 but was almost a spectator as Anderson dictated proceedings from the outset.
I believe this match will be a much closer affair. Van Barneveld’s draw and Anderson’s victory last week made it mathematically impossible for Lewis to snatch a Top 4 spot, but he should be extremely relaxed, which may be ominous for the Scot. Both men are two of the most natural talents in the modern-game and if both are at their best, it could be an enthralling battle. On present form, both players are evenly-matched, so a share of the spoils is an exceedingly possible scenario.
Prediction: Lewis 6-6 Anderson
Dave Chisnall vs Michael van Gerwen
The league phase culminates, rather fittingly, with a contest between this season’s best two performers by some margin. Michael van Gerwen, as expected, tops the table going into Brighton, but defeat to Chisnall will see him finish in 2nd place, for the first time since he began competing in the Premier League in 2013. Chisnall continues to be overlooked by pundits and bookmakers alike, but how on earth can you under-estimate a player that may potentially top the table after 16 matches against the world’s elite?
Van Gerwen has lost 3 of his last 5 Premier League fixtures, although some of these have essentially been dead-rubbers. Irrespective of this, momentum is vital in sport, so another defeat for MvG could affect his belief heading into the play-offs at the O2. I still make van Gerwen favourite to reclaim the crown off his Dutch friend and rival, Raymond van Barneveld, although as definitively proven in recent weeks, he is far from invincible.
Chisnall has enjoyed a terrific campaign. In the opening three weeks, he didn’t perform at his best, but he still recorded 5pts from a possible 6, which gave him a solid platform to build upon and since then, his performances have continually improved.
Since Judgement Night in Week 9, Chisnall has only averaged below 100 on the solitary occasion, which just reaffirms how consistently he has performed. Doubling has often been a reoccurring problem surrounding Chizzy’s game, but he appears to have rectified this vulnerability and continues to go from strength to strength.
I believe van Gerwen is the man under pressure in this contest. He has led the table from the outset, so to be usurped in the final match would be a bitter pill to swallow and psychologically, it could have repercussions for finals night. However, van Gerwen did play well last week in defeat to Lewis; he missed some key doubles but still posted an average in excess of 103.
These men often enjoy classic encounters and with their qualification assured, I don’t think this game will disappointment. Due to the scoring power possessed by both, whoever establishes an early lead will be exceedingly tough to peg back. On current form it’s extremely difficult to separate them, which is why a draw may be the most likely outcome.
Prediction: Chisnall 6-6 van Gerwen
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