Fresh from his remarkable World Championship exploits, Gerwyn Price will aim to underline his world No 1 credentials when the 2021 Premier League Darts season gets underway later this year, with five-time winner Michael van Gerwen vying to reclaim his crown.
The new campaign – scheduled to begin at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena on February 4 – has been pushed back because of heightened Covid-19 restrictions, with the first nine events postponed until a later date.
PDC officials are hopeful that the league season can get underway around Easter, although the ‘challengers’ concept will not return for a third consecutive year, as the tournament instead reverts back to its original 10-player format.
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Nine of the 10 participants were confirmed by PDC Chief Executive Matt Porter following Sunday’s World Championship final, and the 10th player will be announced following the season-opening Masters.
Newly crowned world champion Price will headline this year’s Premier League alongside five-time winner Van Gerwen, who saw his seven-year monopoly as world No 1 ended by the Welshman at Alexandra Palace.
Reigning champion Glen Durrant will defend his title, whilst Nathan Aspinall – runner-up to ‘Duzza’ in last year’s showpiece – returns alongside two-time winner Gary Anderson, and former world champions Peter Wright and Rob Cross.
Dimitri Van den Bergh and Jose De Sousa will make their respective debuts having clinched major titles in 2020, and as we look ahead to the sport’s biggest roadshow, we’ve profiled the nine contenders battling it out for glory.
PDC Order of Merit: 1st
PL Apps: 3
Last Year: 5th
PL Best: 5th (2019, 2020)
Price will begin his fourth consecutive Premier League season as a world champion and the world No 1 – a far cry from the player eliminated on his debut in 2018 without a victory to his name.
‘The Iceman’ won more titles than any other player in 2020 – cementing his superiority by claiming the biggest title in the sport on January 3, with an emphatic 7-3 win over Gary Anderson.
The 35-year-old has yet to make his mark in the Premier League arena, however. Since his infamous 2018 season, he has recorded back-to-back fifth-place finishes, but as world champion, he’ll be expected to feature in the play-off picture.
Michael van Gerwen
PDC Order of Merit: 2nd
PL Apps: 8
Last Year: 6th
PL Best: Winner (2013, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019)
Having topped the league phase in his seven previous appearances, Van Gerwen endured a tumultuous 2020 campaign that saw him fail to qualify for the play-offs for the very first time.
After languishing in sixth place last term, the Dutchman will be desperate to make amends and equal Phil Taylor’s haul of six Premier League titles, and he has the added incentive of bidding to reclaim his world No 1 status.
The three-time world champion only claimed five titles last year – a barren spell by his extraordinary standards, but having displayed glimpses of his irrepressible best over recent months, he’ll be confident of bouncing back with a bang.
PDC Order of Merit: 3rd
PL Apps: 7
Last Year: Semi-Finals
PL Best: Runner-Up (2017)
Wright achieved his darting destiny on New Year’s Day in 2020 – although the colourful Scot can feel aggrieved at being deprived of the opportunity to be introduced as world champion to the darting masses.
The Premier League has largely been a source of heartbreak for Snakebite – in seven appearances he has only qualified for Finals Night on two occasions, spurning six darts for glory in the 2017 showpiece against Van Gerwen.
The world No 3 finished second in last year’s league phase, only to succumb to debutant Nathan Aspinall in the semi-finals. Will this be his year?
PDC Order of Merit: 4th
PL Apps: 3
Last Year: 9th (Eliminated)
PL Best: Runner-Up (2019)
Cross is embarking on a fourth consecutive Premier League campaign, but the 2018 world champion will be seeking redemption following his elimination from last year’s competition.
‘Voltage’ recorded successive top-four finishes in his first two appearances, yet despite retaining his place in the world’s top four, Cross’ form throughout the last 18 months has been unconvincing.
The three-time major winner challenged Van Gerwen for top spot in the 2019 edition before losing out to the Dutchman in the corresponding final, and he’ll be bidding to recapture that form as he aims to recover from an opening-round exit at the Worlds.
PDC Order of Merit: 5th
PL Apps: 1
Last Year: Runner-Up
PL Best: Runner-Up (2020)
Aspinall’s ascent up the darting pyramid over the last two years has been remarkable, and he flourished on his Premier League bow 12 months ago.
The 2019 UK Open champion – who also made back-to-back semi-finals at Alexandra Palace, is one of the most tenacious characters in the game, but he also possesses quality in abundance.
‘The Asp’ claimed the scalps of the world’s top three in last year’s competition before losing out to Durrant, and he’ll be desperate to hit the ground running, following an underwhelming conclusion to 2020.
PDC Order of Merit: 8th
PL Apps: 9
Last Year: Semi-Finals
PL Best: Winner (2011, 2015)
Anderson is the seasoned veteran of this year’s line-up, as he prepares to enter double figures in terms of Premier League appearances.
‘The Flying Scotsman’ is without an individual major since the 2018 Champions League of Darts – the longest drought of anyone in this year’s field – yet he has featured in World Matchplay and World Championship finals over the last six months.
The two-time world champion insists 2021 could spark his resurgence, and he will be confident of putting his world final disappointment behind him, as he eyes play-off qualification for a seventh straight campaign.
Dimitri Van den Bergh
PDC Order of Merit: 10th
PL Apps: 0
Major titles: World Matchplay (2020)
PL Best: Debut
The Belgian is one of two players to be handed a debut in 2021, and the World Matchplay champion is the epitome of a Premier League player. He comes alive on the big stage, which augurs well ahead of the sport’s biggest roadshow.
The two-time World Youth champion clinched his first senior PDC major in July, seeing off his Premier League rivals Aspinall, Durrant and Anderson to lift the iconic Phil Taylor Trophy.
Van den Bergh’s first foray into Premier League waters came back in 2018, when he shared the spoils with James Wade as ‘contender’, but he returns a major champion and one of the world’s best – it will be fascinating to follow his progress.
PDC Order of Merit: 13th
PL Apps: 1
Last Year: Winner
PL Best: Winner (2020)
Durrant enjoyed a dream Premier League debut in 2020, breaking a host of records en route to lifting the coveted title – his first televised triumph as a PDC player.
The Teessider followed in the esteemed footsteps of Phil Taylor and Van Gerwen by becoming the third player since the tournament’s inception to top the league phase, before sealing the title with wins over Anderson and Aspinall on Finals Night.
Nevertheless, since that memorable night in October, the three-time BDO world champion tested positive for Covid-19 and subsequently saw his form evaporate – a period he’s described as the toughest of his career.
Jose De Sousa
PDC Order of Merit: 15th
PL Apps: 0
Major titles: Grand Slam (2020)
PL Best: Debut
What an extraordinary story it’s been for ‘The Special One’. Two years ago he was fitting kitchens as he prepared to enter PDC Qualifying School – now he’s a major winner poised to feature alongside the world’s elite on a weekly basis.
De Sousa is one of darts’ most enchanting characters – his unorthodox methods of finishing, coupled with his suspect counting – adds to the intrigue, but he demonstrated his world-class ability by scooping November’s Grand Slam crown.
He’s yet to consistently deliver on the televised stage, although he’s seamlessly risen to every challenge he’s faced in his relatively short PDC career, and his unflappable nature should hold him in good stead ahead of his toughest assignment yet.
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