The new season of the Premier League Darts gets underway in Cardiff this evening. We have a new look to the event too. A reduced field of eight players, each match is best of eleven legs, points to be played for and a £10,000 prize to the winner on the night. Our darts expert is back to take you through the four opening matches and to pick an overall winner.
The Premier League Darts League starts on February 3
Jonny Clayton v Joe Cullen
Defending champions Jonny Clayton opens up proceedings against last week’s Masters winner, Joe Cullen.
It was an emotional weekend for ‘The Rockstar’ Joe Cullen who claimed his first major and televised title in the PDC to start his 2022 campaign in superb fashion. He has long been touted as a Premier League player in the making and he has now fulfilled that belief after being selected for the event on Monday following his weekend triumph.
During that event he was in fine form and the deserved winner. He thumped Gary Anderson 10-1 en route in a faultless display, posting the highest individual match average of 106.30 to boot. He then backed that up with a victory against another Premier League opponent, Michael Van Gerwen in the following round 10-7. He had a good 2021 claiming a couple of titles on the floor. He was probably disappointed to get knocked out so early in the World Championship but his statistics from that event still suggest he performed well enough.
Clayton will know all about how the success of the Masters can be a springboard to success as he enjoyed a fruitful campaign last year winning the Masters, Premier League, World Grand Prix and World Series of Darts.
He lost to Michael Smith in the World Championships in what has since been voted Match of The Year. No player deserved to lose but unfortunately, somebody had to. He exited that event with the highest tournament average at 102.83 and he looked good at the Masters too winning his opening two matches against Dimitri Van Den Bergh and Gerwyn Price with 100+ averages before losing to Dave Chisnall 11-6 in the Semi-Final, who was ruthless at the business end of the match.
For me this promises to be the match of the night. It’s not the easiest to call with the form Cullen showed this weekend but my preference is for Clayton who until his defeat against Chisnall had averaged 100+ on five successive occasions, plus he’ll have the support of the home crowd. That won’t be my selection in this game however, the pace of the game should suit both men and with that in mind I think we could see both players find the red bit.
Prediction: Both Players to Hit 2+ 180’s
Gerwyn Price v James Wade
For once there should be vociferous support for Price from the crowd instead of the pantomime boo’s he’s often on the end of. He played well the weekend but once again came up short against his compatriot Jonny Clayton 10-8.
Like Clayton he was another player who came up short at the World Championship at the hands of Michael Smith but once again it wasn’t in poor fashion, it was a sublime performance from his opponent that led to his demise.
Price will be looking to make amends after being eliminated from the event before it started last year due to Covid but in his previous appearances in his event he’s come up short being eliminated in fifth place on his last two attempts. He’s a different animal now and you’d expect him to be in the mix come Play-Offs night.
James Wade on the other hand knows how to win this event, having won it back in 2009. He was actually the player who benefited from Price’s exclusion last year, finishing a respectable sixth in the end.
He’s in the field in his own right this year being top four in the world and the defending UK Open champion. The alarming thing however is that much of his best stuff was done early in 2021. He did reach the Semi-Final of the World Championships but his performances were below what we’ve come to expect from him with a tournament average of just 90.67.
He was beaten easily 10-4 by Dave Chisnall in his opening match at The Masters this weekend and despite leading their 2021 head to head 2-1 I think Price is in the better form of the two. Take the ‘Iceman’ to prevail here. The Match Treble looks a very viable option also in this game, given the percentage of legs Price takes out a ton plus outshot.
Prediction: Gerwyn Price to Win
Peter Wright v Michael Smith
This is a repeat of the 2022 PDC World Darts Championship and should be an intriguing encounter. Once again Peter Wright tinkered with his darts selection the weekend at the Masters as he lost to Simon Whitlock in his opening match, averaging a respectable 96.55.
I’m no longer surprised by the tinkering of ‘Snakebite’ but it still doesn’t stop me asking why he doesn’t persist with a particular set of arrows? Especially ones which win him the Matchplay and World titles.
That is half the problem when betting on his events, his choice of darts can have such a big impact on his performances and you never know until he gets up there what he’s going to play with.
Smith however does stick with one set of arrows and they are certainly going well for him at present. He was runner-up at the Worlds and looked like going 6-4 up in that final only for a majestic 20 minutes of darts from Peter Wright to ruthlessly claim the title 7-5 in the end.
He backed this up by having the highest tournament average at the Masters at 102.20 although he came up short once again in the Quarter-Final versus Dave Chisnall having looked the likely winner in much of the early exchanges.
He continues to pepper the Treble 20 bed and was averaging them at a rate of 0.44 per leg during the Masters and 0.42 per leg at the World Championships. In fact these two met on four occasions last year and in the 109 legs they played, they amassed 85. 44 for Smith, 41 for Wright.
That could be the way to go in this one, especially if this game has legs in it and even more so if Wright brings what I perceive to be his perfect darts to the stage. The price available on both players to hit three or more maximums seems very fair indeed.
Prediction: Both Players to Hit 3+ 180’s
Michael van Gerwen v Gary Anderson
Recently married Gary Anderson got pummelled 10-1 in the Masters by Joe Cullen averaging just 91.23 in the process. Cullen was ruthless that day and there wasn’t much Anderson could do against him, especially in the final four legs were he was faultless.
There’s no doubt that Anderson is better than that and he got better as the World Championships went on, eventually losing in a Semi-Final classic to Peter Wright. I’d expect him to get better as this event goes on and as he gets more match practice so now could be the time to play him.
Having said all that Michael van Gerwen wasn’t in the best of form either the weekend. He came through against Luke Humphries in a last leg decider, surviving five match in a game that turned a bit sour towards the end with ‘cough gate’ becoming an issue.
He lost his next game however 10-7 to Joe Cullen averaging 93.57 but he was second best for much of this match. He’d have been hoping to make an impact this year after a disappointing 2021 campaign and having to withdraw to from the World Championship early due to Covid but that didn’t seem the case over the weekend.
Van Gerwen did boast the highest seasonal average in 2021 at 99.29 but just didn’t experience the success of previous years and is no longer the dominant force he used to be.
These matches used to be the match everyone wanted to see but whilst still being a big draw they’re not the box office of previous years.
The pair met four times in 2021 and MVG won four of them with a draw in the other. I expect him to get off the mark with a win here to kickstart his Premier League campaign.
Prediction: Michael van Gerwen to Win
Week One Outright Winner
It’s always difficult to select a winner when the Top 8 players face off against each other and especially in a race to six legs as they are all capable of beating each other. Long gone are the dominant days of Phil Taylor and Michael Van Gerwen so success could be shared out across the weeks.
Looking at the draw Clayton and Cullen is difficult to call, they met just once last year with Cullen victorious 8-7. Given the latter’s form you could argue a similar last leg shoot will be required here but with home advantage, I’m siding with the Welshman to prevail just.
That should set up a Semi-Final against his Welsh World Cup teammate and World Number One, Gerwyn Price. Although Wade beat Price in the UK Open Semi-Final last year, Price is playing much the better of the two. With the support he’s likely to receive they should see him through.
The third match between Peter Wright and Michael Smith is a tight game to call but I’m opting for Smith to bully his way to victory given you sort of know what you’re going to get with him whereas you can’t be sure with World Champion Wright. From my write up above you can already guess that I’m tipping him to face van Gerwen in the other Semi-Final, more so because of Anderson still not seeming in top gear.
From here I’m going for Price to defeat Clayton as two recent victories for Clayton over Price have been so in a race to ten. In these matches he’s trailed 4-1 to Price before mounting a comeback but I don’t see Price being so profligate in a race to six.
I’m also predicting Smith on current form to be too good for van Gerwen given the confidence he’s exuding and the power scoring he possesses. We all know MVG is capable of destroying anyone on his day but he’s not in full flow just yet.
On the opening night I think it will the World Number One who’ll pick up the first purse of £10,000 by winning the schedule. He has home support and think he just sees things through better than Smith when it comes to winning events.
What will be of benefit for sure, is that we’ll learn a lot from tonight to take us forward in future weeks.
Prediction: Gerwyn Price to Win Week One
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