The 2016 PDC World Championships are now just one week away. Michael van Gerwen, Phil Taylor and Gary Anderson are three of the favourites to claim Ally Pally glory. However, today I assess the chances of arguably, the second-greatest darts player in history.
7. Raymond van Barneveld
5-Time World Champion Raymond van Barneveld is seeded 16 for this year’s World Championships; nevertheless, this ranking doesn’t reflect his current form or his undeniable class. Van Barneveld is still a genuine contender for major honours and he may relish the ‘underdog’ tag at Alexandra Palace.
Van Barneveld has enjoyed a far better year than most would give him credit for. He reached the final of the Unibet Masters in February, whilst he mounted a staunch defence of his Premier League title, eventually losing in the semi-finals. On both occasions he was beaten by Michael van Gerwen.
The legendary Dutchman also enjoyed a fine World Series campaign down under. He beat van Gerwen in successive tournaments, reaching the semi-finals in Sydney, before losing in the final in Auckland. Adrian Lewis got the better of Raymond in both events, although this was courtesy of nail-biting last-leg deciders.
Nevertheless, these four tournaments are invitational, unranked events; therefore the prize money gained does not contribute towards the Order of Merit. Raymond has experienced the pitfalls of this in recent times, having won the 2012 Grand Slam and the 2014 Premier League, both of which were unranked.
As a consequence, despite these excellent performances, van Barneveld’s ranking didn’t improve and he temporarily slipped outside the Top 16 of the Order of Merit in October. Nevertheless, the 48-year-old Dutchman rectified this just a month later, by reaching the semi-finals in the Grand Slam of Darts.
Van Barneveld progressed through a group featuring Gary Anderson, Larry Butler and Andy Boulton, before he recorded fine victories over James Wade and Mark Webster to reach the last four. He was narrowly beaten by Phil Taylor 16-12 in the semis, although it was a welcome return to form in ranking tournaments for RvB.
He also performed superbly well at the World Series Finals in Glasgow last month. After cruising to an emphatic victory over Mark Webster, he was edged out 10-8 by MvG in a thrilling quarter-final, despite Barney averaging 104.
His results in ranking majors have been slightly disappointing by his extremely high standards this year. He has suffered opening round defeats at the World Matchplay, the World Grand Prix and the Players Championship Finals, although on current form, he will be extremely confident of dispelling that statistic at Alexandra Palace.
Raymond thrives on the big occasion, which is illustrated by his five World title triumphs. Whenever he appears under pressure or in desperate need of a result, he predominantly delivers the goods. That’s the epitome of a top-class player.
Van Barneveld has reached the semi-finals of the World Championships in two of the last three years and he’ll be desperate for a similar performance next month. However, he has been handed an extremely difficult route.
He faces compatriot and good-friend Dirk van Duijvenbode in round one, which won’t be a formality. Dirk is a very talented player and has the potential to be explosive.
Ironically, van Barneveld recommended van Duijvenbode to Unicorn two years ago, and the rest is history! Having said that, Raymond’s experience and composure on the big-stage should prove decisive.
If van Barneveld overcomes van Duijvenbode, he could face former Lakeside Champion Stephen Bunting in the last 32, in a repeat of last year’s quarter-final clash at Ally Pally. On that occasion, Barney was a 5-4 victor and this could be another tight tussle.
Bunting has struggled for form of late, although his class is most certainly permanent. However, van Barneveld has dominated their head-to-head meetings, winning six of their seven clashes. From a psychological perspective, this could be a key factor if they do indeed meet in round-two.
There is a tantalising prospect of an all-Dutch clash between van Gerwen and van Barneveld in the last 16, if both were to secure victories from their opening two matches.
The World Number One is overwhelming favourite to win the tournament and RvB would be the firm outsider, although Ray is one of a select few who has both the ability and mentality to defeat ‘The Green Machine’.
Although van Gerwen has enjoyed the better of their head-to-head meetings in 2015, Raymond has beaten Michael three times this year, all on TV, which is more than other player. As a result, MvG wouldn’t necessarily relish the prospect of facing his compatriot so early on in the tournament.
Raymond is certainly in the form to mount a serious challenge. He is very content with his current set-up and he’s been performing well for the last four-five months. Ultimately, his rather unfortunate draw has ensured that he’s not really been talked about as a contender, but you cannot write him off.
Van Barneveld has class in abundance and he knows how to win big matches. He is priced at 50/1 with title sponsor William Hill to win his sixth World title; could the fan’s favourite be this year’s dark-horse?