It is set to be a spectacular night of darts on Thursday evening, as the Premier League roadshow heads to German soil for the very first time. 12,000 fans will be packed into the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin, in what will be the biggest ever post-war crowd for a darts event.
According to darts historian Patrick Chaplin, a crowd of 14,354 fans was recorded in 1939 for the London & The South Divisional final of the News of the World Championship, held at the Royal Agricultural Hall in London. Nevertheless, tomorrow’s crowd of 12,000 will set a new PDC record.
The night kicks off with a top-of-the-table clash between Michael Smith and Simon Whitlock. The pair were quoted as two of the three favourites to be relegated ahead of this tournament, but both men have claimed three wins from three thus far, with Whitlock topping the table on legs difference.
‘The Wizard’ followed up victories over Mensur Suljovic and Rob Cross by defeating Raymond van Barneveld last week, whilst Smith has already registered wins over Gary Anderson, Daryl Gurney and Suljovic to kick off his campaign in style.
Both men were relegated in their previous Premier League appearances, although that doesn’t look like being the case this time around. Whitlock said: “It’s going to be amazing this week and I can’t wait. I’m over the moon with how things have gone so far and Michael’s been great too.
“I’m really proud of Michael because he’s a class player and he deserves to be in the Premier League, and he’s showing why. I’m feeling confident too, and I’ve got the desire inside to be one of the best,” Whitlock added.
However, Smith is in equally bullish mood: “I’m taking my chances at the moment but I still don’t think I’m at my best – when my A-game kicks in I think I can destroy people on the board. I’m aiming to stay in the top four and I’m want to win this. I want to go unbeaten, and now I believe in myself that I’m one of the best players in the world.”
Gerwyn Price and Mensur Suljovic will also face off in a battle of the debutants, with both men searching for their first Premier League victories. Price has two points from his opening three games, having suffered defeat against Anderson, whilst claiming draws against Peter Wright and Gurney.
Nevertheless, Suljovic has endured a difficult introduction into the Premier League and is cut adrift at the bottom of the table after losing his first three matches. ‘The Gentle’ posted ton-plus averages in each of his first two ties against Whitlock and Van Barneveld, before suffering a heavy 7-2 defeat against a resurgent Smith in Newcastle last week.
‘The Iceman’ is expecting the partisan Berlin crowd to rally behind Austrian ace Suljovic, although he revealed that he relishes the role of pantomime villain. “The last few weeks have been brilliant, especially in Cardiff, but in Berlin it’s going to be immense. I’m up against someone who the Germans will probably support.
“Sometimes when the crowd’s against me it spurs me on. I’ve played against Gary Anderson in Glasgow and I seem to play well against the German players in the European Tour events. It’s going to be exciting,” the Welshman added.
Michael van Gerwen will aim to continue his magnificent form as he takes on Daryl Gurney, who is still searching for his maiden Premier League win. MvG bounced back from his week two defeat against Peter Wright by averaging 110.62 to defeat Gary Anderson, before winning the opening two Players Championship events last weekend.
However, ‘The Green Machine’ is still determined to hunt down Whitlock and Smith, in a bid to top the Premier League table for the sixth consecutive year. “I’ve had Rob Cross, Peter Wright and Gary Anderson and four points is not too bad but I want to be top of the table and I’m not, so that gives me something to chase,” Van Gerwen claimed.
Gurney currently sits in mid-table, having registered two draws and a defeat from his opening two matches. Despite this, the Northern Irishman’s stalemates came after he relinquished sizeable leads against both Van Barneveld and Price, therefore he realises he needs to be more ruthless.
“I still haven’t played my best yet. In my own opinion, I haven’t been that good. I’ve got to cut out the mediocre stuff, play proper darts – the way I have been practising. I’m putting myself in a good position but I need to keep my foot on the gas. The way I’ve played in the last couple of weeks, I’ve been steady enough, playing okay but I can play so much better.”
Elsewhere, one of the highlights of the evening promises to be a clash between current world champion Rob Cross and five-time world champion Raymond van Barneveld. Cross opened his Premier League account with victory over Peter Wright last week, whilst Van Barneveld suffered his first defeat at the hands of an in-form Whitlock.
Cross insisted: “It doesn’t matter how you’re playing as long as you’re winning and it was good to get the win last week. I’m starting to get back to my old self now. I was like starting again and I’ve never experienced that before.
“The Premier League’s still new for me but I’m getting back into my routine, playing more and my practice is going well, and I’ll get better. I’m excited, I’m ready to play Raymond and I think it will be a good game.”
Nevertheless, Van Barneveld is also in confident mood, as he aims to bounce back from last week. Barney claimed: “I always feel good in Germany, and it’s going to be a huge crowd in Berlin. I’m really focused on playing the World Champion Rob Cross.”
The 2014 Premier League champion added: “I’ve got three points from the first three weeks but I want to hopefully get a couple more points tomorrow and I’m confident.”
The evening then concludes with an all-Scottish clash between Peter Wright and Gary Anderson. The pair have previously teamed up together to represent Scotland at the World Cup of Darts in Frankfurt, although both men will be desperate to secure a much-needed victory tomorrow night.
Wright was unable to replicate the performance that saw him beat Michael van Gerwen in week two, as he went down to Rob Cross 7-4 in a controversial affair. Meanwhile, Anderson was condemned to his second defeat of the campaign, despite averaging 110.79 in an enthralling contest against MvG, and ‘Snakebite’ is aware of the challenge he faces.
Wright said: “Gary’s back is a lot better now and the way he played last week against Michael was fantastic. Gary and players like that always bring the best out of me. I lost last Thursday and didn’t have a great weekend so I’ve been trying to get some practice in and I’m mentally prepared, so we’ll see how it goes, but it should be a good game.
“I love it out in Germany. The fans are amazing, they make me feel welcome and sing their song to me, and I think because I have crazy hair and the crazy outfits they’ve taken to me. It should be an amazing atmosphere.”
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC
Unibet Premier League
Night Four – February 22
Mercedes-Benz Arena, Berlin
Michael Smith v Simon Whitlock
Gerwyn Price v Mensur Suljovic
Michael van Gerwen v Daryl Gurney
Rob Cross v Raymond van Barneveld
Peter Wright v Gary Anderson