After 14 weeks where the fortunes of the 10 competitors have ebbed and flowed, the top four in the Premier League Darts table prepare to fight it out at the O2 Arena on Thursday in the play-offs.
Among the semi-finalists is a fast-rising debutant, a classy veteran and the PDC’s two most successful players.
This season saw the Premier League take on a new format. The field was extended from eight to 10 players, with the bottom two relegated after nine weeks when they had all played each other.
After the nine week cut-off point, 2011 Premier League winner Gary Anderson and debutant Wes Newton dropped out, with Simon Whitlock and Adrian Lewis escaping on what was known as Judgement Night. The cream has risen to the top since then.
Another debutant, world number two Michael van Gerwen, ended the league phase in top spot, finishing one point clear of fellow Dutchman Raymond van Barneveld, and is favourite at 6/5 to win the tournament outright.
Van Gerwen’s power scoring and ability to come from behind early on in games, not to mention his sky-high confidence, has served him well.
As for Barney, he looked to be full of confidence too, sealing qualification with two games remaining. Phil Taylor, rather surprisingly, only finished third in the league, losing four games.
James Wade, having started so well, just about did enough to qualify, with Robert Thornton and Whitlock falling just short. Andy Hamilton, along with fellow Stoke-on-Trent native Lewis, saw their form dip following Judgement Night in Brighton.
Strangely, the two semi-finals in the Premier League play-offs are exactly the same as the last four from the 2013 Ladbrokes World Darts Championship!
Defending champ Taylor takes on Van Barneveld, while Van Gerwen and Wade clash once again. The winners then face each for the £150,000 jackpot.
Here we preview both semis and look at the recent form of the players involved. Enjoy!
Michael van Gerwen v James Wade
In the league stage, Wade beat Van Gerwen 7-4, but in their second match, the 24-year-old reversed the seven-time major winner 7-5. Coming into their semi-final, Van Gerwen is the overwhelming favourite at 2/7 to do the business, and is likely to outscore Wade.
Van Gerwen has a tournament average of just over 100 compared to 97 for the Machine, and he has hit 57 180’s, more than anyone else in the Premier League this year.
While Van Gerwen leads the way in scoring, Wade is the tournament’s best finisher, with checkout success rate of 45.36%.
Mighty Mike, who has reached three of the previous five individual major finals, should win, but Wade’s matchplay nous might ensure that he’s in with a chance of going all the way. The form of Van Gerwen suggests that he’ll be one step closer to the Premier League trophy.
Raymond van Barneveld v Phil Taylor
These two must be sick of the sight of each other!
To date, Barney and the Power will have met each other at least 60 times after Thursday, with Taylor winning more than 80% of their games. Last time they met in the Premier League in Dublin, they had a tense 6-6 draw in a match Barney should have won.
Given his superior record against the man who beat him in the 2007 World Championship Final, Taylor is the heavy favourite at 4/9 to at least win this match, but despite having the highest tournament three-dart average, which is 100.37, he’s unlikely to take Barney lightly.
If Barney is to overcome the huge psychological barrier he has encountered time and time again when playing Taylor, he has to get a few legs early on.
It will give him confidence and make Taylor worry, although the 10,000-plus crowd are likely to be on the Power’s side.