Michael van Gerwen is aiming to win a fifth Premier League Darts title on Thursday – but can anyone stop him?
The reigning PDC world champion finished top of the group table for the seventh successive year, and is an odds-on favourite to move within one of Phil Taylor’s record of six Premier League wins.
World number one Van Gerwen faces Daryl Gurney in one last-four contest, while Rob Cross and James Wade face off in the other when the 2019 edition concludes with the semi-finals and final at London’s O2 Arena.
Wade is seeking a second Premier League title 10 years after his first, while fellow Englishman Cross and Northern Ireland’s Gurney have not previously won the tournament.
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Van Gerwen’s dominance
The Dutchman, who turned 30 last month, is in his seventh Premier League campaign. He has finished top of the group table in every year he has competed, and has never failed to reach the final.
Winning his final match against Mensur Suljovic in Leeds earned him a £25,000 league leaders’ bonus, although he has been far from happy with his performances in this year’s competition.
“We’ve been playing for 16 weeks and now it’s knockout – it’s all or nothing,” said Van Gerwen, who lost three of his 16 group games.
“I know I can do better than I have this season – there is a lot of room for improvement.
“I’ve still had a 100 average over the season but my concentration level in this Premier League hasn’t been as good as in the last three years, so I can only blame myself for that.
“I need to make sure I get focused because it’s really important for me to do well.”
Is there hope for the rest?
Of course there is.
All three players are in good form – you have to be if you are going to make it through 16 gruelling weeks travelling around Europe and then produce high-level performances on a regular basis.
All three are previous winners of major televised PDC events.
This season’s head-to-heads make good reading for two of Van Gerwen’s opponents, too. Gurney, 33, did the double over him during the group phase, while Wade managed a win and a draw against the three-time world champion.
World number four Gurney, who will play Van Gerwen in his semi-final, said: “Of the four players I’ll probably be the fourth favourite, but being the underdog doesn’t bother me as I know what I can do.
“Just two wins on the night will win you the Premier League and I really fancy it.
“Whenever the pressure is on me, for some reason I play my best darts. When I’m playing the best players in the world it takes me to another level and that’s what I’ll be aiming to reproduce.”
Cross lost both of his group matches to Van Gerwen but has beaten him on the big stage before – winning a semi-final classic en route to his 2018 World Championship title win.
Defeat by Wade in Leeds ended the former electrician’s hopes of finishing top of the table, which Wade believes could give Cross extra motivation to beat him in their last-four tie – if it was required.
The 36-year-old said: “It wasn’t a knockout game and, if anything, I cost Rob £25,000 so it will give him a bit of fuel. But I’ll be ready for him.
“Michael and me are probably the most experienced players in the Premier League. There are better players than me and far more flamboyant players, but I know what I’m capable of and I’m never someone to be written off.”
Cross, 28, added: “Last year I was really struggling with my injury and I didn’t get to make the most of my chance (in the play-offs).
“This year I’ve enjoyed playing in the Premier League a lot more, and I think that’s been reflected in my improved performances.
“I’ve practiced a bit more, put the hard work in and it’s paid dividends for me. I’ve learnt a lot from my experiences of the last couple of years and it’s finally coming to fruition.
“To win the Premier League would be an amazing thing for me, there’s only a very elite group of players to achieved it and I would love to join that list.”
Semi-finals (best of 19 legs)
Michael van Gerwen v Daryl Gurney
Rob Cross v James Wade
Final (best of 21 legs)
Van Gerwen/Gurney v Cross/Wade