Premier League Darts is back on Monday and it promises to be full of surprises.
For starters, the ongoing health crisis has resulted in a very different format for the competition. Instead of the Premier League taking place once a week, over a period of months and hosted at sold-out arenas, the action will come from the empty Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes.
The first five nights take place between Monday and Friday this week, followed by another four consecutive nights later in April, when the bottom two players will be eliminated. The remaining seven nights will be played across two weeks in May, with the Play-offs on the 28th deciding who will be crowned as champion.
Michael van Gerwen is the favourite to win his sixth Premier League title at 3.613/5, ahead of the current World Champion and world number one Gerwyn Price at 4.03/1. Peter Wright is third favourite at 7.26/1, with the in-form Jonny Clayton at 11.010/1, just ahead of Gary Anderson at 11.521/2. Dimitri van den Bergh at 13.5, Jose De Sousa at 19.018/1, Nathan Aspinall at 20.019/1, Glen Durrant at 21.020/1 and Rob Cross at 34.033/1, complete the field.
Based on results in 2021, there's no one playing better right now that the debutant Clayton. The Welshman booked the last remaining place in the Premier League by winning the Masters in January and has reached the final of four of the eight Players Championship events this year, winning two.
Due to the Masters being a non-ranking event, Clayton is the lowest ranked player in the competition, at 17 in the world, but that is unlikely to be the case for long. Since winning the World Cup for Wales alongside Price, Clayton has looked a different player and is worth considering at 8.07/1 to top the league.
Price has continued to set a high standard since winning the World Championship, reaching the semi-finals of both the Masters and the UK Open. He also won one of the Players Championships events held in March and was a beaten finalist in another.
When Price won the World Championship, he immediately named the Premier League as a big target this year. It's an event that he's underperformed in, having failed to make the play-offs in three attempts, but he looks better value at 4.03/1 to win the Premier League, than the favourite.
Van Gerwen has the pedigree to be the favourite at 3.613/5, but perhaps not the form. This is the furthest point into a year without MVG winning a title of some sort, since 2012. He missed out on the Play-offs last year and there's no guarantee that the same won't happen again.
The defending champion Durrant has seen his form collapse since beating Aspinall in the final last year. A week after winning the Premier League, he caught Covid-19 and his game has yet to recover. His performances in 2021 rank him 89th out of 132 players on the Pro Tour circuit and it's not surprise that he's the favourite to be eliminated at 1.574/7.
Cross is the second favourite at 2.26/5, having been eliminated last year. He gained an automatic place in this year's Premier League, as he was ranked fourth at the time when the first nine players were announced. Based on form over the past year, it's a stretch to say that Cross deserves his place over others that are not involved, such as James Wade or Dave Chisnall.
Aspinall is the third favourite to be eliminated at 2.56/4. His ranking has slipped to ten in the world, but while it would be a surprise if he repeated last season's feat of making the final, he should have the quality to avoid the drop.
Right now, Price, Wright and Clayton look likeliest to make the Play-offs, with Van Gerwen's history in the Premier League, suggesting he can join them. The likes of Gary Anderson and debutants such as Jose De Sousa and Dimitri van den Bergh, could also challenge.
Durrant is too short to recommend to finish in the bottom two, but Cross is value at 2.26/5, having finished bottom after nine weeks, last year. Another value bet is the 11/10 on the Sportsbook for there to be a nine-dart finish in the tournament. There were two last year.