The 2020 Premier League season kicks off at Aberdeen’s new P&J Live venue on Thursday night, as newly crowned world champion Peter Wright meets world No 1 Michael van Gerwen in a repeat of their Alexandra Palace showpiece.
Wright had suffered defeat against ‘The Green Machine’ in nine previous major finals but he produced the performance of his life to lift his first world title on New Year’s Day and he’s sure to receive a vociferous welcome from his adoring Scottish fans.
Gary Anderson also makes his Premier League return after missing out on last year’s roadshow with a back injury, whilst another home favourite John Henderson is the first of nine ‘challengers’ to compete in the 2020 tournament.
Michael Smith vs Glen Durrant
Durrant enjoyed a terrific debut year in the PDC – scooping two Pro Tour titles and reaching three major televised semi-finals, and the three-time BDO world champion’s exploits were rewarded with a deserved Premier League wildcard.
Smith endured a mixed 2019 having succumbed to Michael van Gerwen in last year’s World Championship final. The St Helen’s star appeared in the World Matchplay final and the UK Open semi-finals, but his wait for an elusive major crown continues.
‘Bully Boy’ squandered three match darts to break his major duck at last weekend’s Masters, although he will take encouragement from the tenacity that saw him defeat Mensur Suljovic, Adrian Lewis and Nathan Aspinall en route to a fifth televised final.
Smith defeated Durrant in last year’s World Matchplay semi-finals, whilst the pair traded victories during November’s Grand Slam of Darts. You’d expect Smith to fashion out opportunities courtesy of his superior scoring, but his profligacy on the outer ring plagued him in last year’s event.
Durrant is not renowned for posting eye-watering averages although he claimed plenty of scalps last year, including wins over Van Gerwen, Cross, Smith and Aspinall. His combination finishing is a feature of his game and that could be critical to his hopes against the 2018 finalist.
Prediction: Smith 7-5 Durrant
Gary Anderson vs Daryl Gurney
What a reception Gary Anderson will receive when he makes his return on home soil. ‘The Flying Scotsman’ was forced to withdraw from last year’s competition due to a back injury and he admits this year’s campaign will be ‘make or break’.
2020 looks set to be a defining campaign for the two-time world champion, although his performances at the Masters provided encouragement, as he swept aside world No 3 Gerwyn Price 10-2 before losing out to eventual winner Wright 11-7 in the semi-finals.
Gurney was a Premier League semi-finalist 12 months ago and he’s a man that relishes the big occasion – evidenced by the fact he completed the league double over Van Gerwen last term, whilst also eliminating Raymond van Barneveld in Rotterdam.
Gurney also appeared in semi-finals at the World Matchplay and European Championship yet it was still considered an underwhelming year for the Northern Irishman, which is testament to the standards he’s set since establishing himself within the world’s top eight.
The pair cannot be separated in terms of head-to-head record, with eight wins apiece from 17 games. Gurney has lost just two of his last eight against Anderson, although the Scot looked in fine form over the weekend and with a partisan home crowd roaring him on, could it be a winning return?
Prediction: Anderson 7-5 Gurney
Michael van Gerwen vs Peter Wright
You can’t back against Michael van Gerwen, can you? ‘The Green Machine’ is bidding to top the league phase for an eighth consecutive year and clinch a fifth consecutive Premier League crown, yet on current form, Wright is unquestionably looking the more convincing.
Having toppled the Dutchman to claim world title glory on New Year’s Day, ‘Snakebite’ made it back-to-back televised titles with victory at the Masters and he looked a class above throughout, boasting a tournament average of just under 100.
Van Gerwen is typically a wounded animal after suffering defeat in major finals, although having recently joined Winmau, the Dutchman is currently using a new set of darts and even for a player of MvG’s calibre, a period of acclimatisation is necessary.
The world No 1 suffered a shock first round Masters defeat at the hands of Jonny Clayton – his first loss in the season-opening event since 2014. Alarm bells won’t be ringing for Van Gerwen by any means, but equally his confidence won’t be sky-high.
You cannot underestimate the psychological impact of Wright’s world title triumph and he’ll want to deliver another statement of intent in Aberdeen. On current form Snakebite arguably has the edge, but Van Gerwen will be desperate to send out a message of his own. It could be a classic!
Prediction: Van Gerwen 6-6 Wright
Nathan Aspinall vs John Henderson
John Henderson’s walk-on in Aberdeen last year provided one of the magical darting moments of 2019 and ‘The Highlander’ will receive another rapturous welcome on his home turf this Thursday.
It’s set to be a baptism of fire for debutant Nathan Aspinall, who was also a ‘contender’ 12 months ago. It’s been a meteoric rise for ‘The Asp’, who has climbed into the world’s top eight courtesy of winning the UK Open along with appearances in back-to-back World Championship semi-finals.
Aspinall will not have experienced the type of hostile atmosphere he’s set to face on Thursday – Even Mother Teresa would enter to a chorus of boos against ‘The Highlander’ in the Granite City. Yet how the 28-year-old copes with the occasion will have a significant bearing on the final reckoning.
None of last year’s nine ‘contenders’ registered victory, although Henderson was one of three players to claim a share of the spoils – against MvG no less. He relished the underdog tag on that occasion, although there may be greater expectation on his shoulders this time around.
It’s also uncharted territory for Aspinall, but he’ll be full of confidence having made back-to-back televised semi-finals. The Stockport star is the better player of the two, but Henderson is an experienced campaigner and coupled with the crowd factor, it makes it a tough contest to call.
Prediction: Aspinall 6-6 Henderson
Gerwyn Price vs Rob Cross
On current form, there’s only one winner and it’s not Rob Cross. Their last competitive meeting saw Cross come out on top in October’s European Championship final, but since then, ‘Voltage’ has failed to go beyond the last 16 in any of his previous five televised tournaments.
The 2018 world champion suffered a crushing opening round exit at the recent World Championship, losing in straight sets to Kim Huybrechts, before kicking off the season with a 10-5 loss to Adrian Lewis at the Masters – posting the fifth lowest average in the tournament’s history.
Cross has spoken candidly ahead of this year’s roadshow about his weight battle – he’s lost just over two stone in six weeks having admitted ‘I didn’t like myself’. For Price however, the current outlook is far more positive.
The Welshman retained his Grand Slam crown in November and finished runner-up in the Players Championship Finals, before losing out in the last four of the World Championship. He’s playing the darts of his life and even at the Masters he did little wrong, averaging 100 in his loss to Anderson.
‘The Iceman’ will be confident of continuing his strong recent record against Cross. Prior to his defeat at the European Championship, he had won his last four meetings against the World Matchplay champion and whilst Cross’ quality is undeniable, he looks bereft of belief at present.
Prediction: Price 7-3 Cross
2020 Unibet Premier League Night One
Thursday February 6
Aberdeen, P&J Live
Michael Smith v Glen Durrant
Gary Anderson v Daryl Gurney
Michael van Gerwen v Peter Wright
Nathan Aspinall v John Henderson
Gerwyn Price v Rob Cross
Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC